Will Health Promotion Help Reduce Pain for Adolescents with Cerebral Palsy? And What About Pilates?

by | Feb 15, 2010 | Exercise and Fitness, Health, Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 2 comments

I recently came across an abstract on PubMed.gov about the prevalence, distribution, and effect of pain among adolescents with Cerebral Palsy by Dorlap & Bartlett.

Out of their sample of 230 teenagers studied, 64% of the girls and 50% of the boys reported that they had experienced pain in the last 6 months.  Foot, ankle, and knee pain seemed most prevalent, low back pain was also reported.

The Study Concludes:

“The high prevalence of pain and its effect on daily activities suggests a need for greater focus on health promotion.”

My Thoughts on Health Promotion and Pilates:

I would love to see some research done on Pilates to reduce pain and improve motor function for adolescents with Cerebral Palsy. All I can go by is the actual improvements that I’ve seen with my CP clients!

Over the past 15 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with three CP kids, (2 were short-term clients, one has been consistently participating in Pilates programs for more than 12 years) All three of these amazing kids showed dramatic improvements that they carried back into their daily life activities.

I have seen changes in gait, motor control, balance, flexibility, strength, body awareness, confidence, coordination, and the list goes on…

One of my CP clients has transformed from extreme pigeon-toed gait and tripping over her own two feet on a regular basis, to trying out for the basketball team in high school, taking ballet classes for a while (requires external rotation of the hip and the ability to move in a toe-out position) wearing high-heeled shoes for her school dances without fear of falling, and she even learned to roller-skate!  If you can’t keep your feet both facing forward, roller-skating is not an option.

All these activities she was unable to even consider before Pilates, and the day I knew Pilates had made a dramatic difference was when her grandmother brought her in for a lesson and said to me, “I went to see my granddaughter’s perform in a play last weekend, and I had to go back and see the show twice!  I missed her entrance…  She used to walk with a funny gait and now she walks just like everybody else.”

The combination of strengthening and stretching that is at the core of Pilates equipment training makes it an optimal choice for helping improve balanced muscle development which leads to better body alignment, strength, and flexibility.  The fact that on the Pilates Reformer you start flat on your back and work to stretch and strengthen the hips, knees, ankles, and feet actually targets the most prevalent reported pain that this study brought to light.

The muscles of child with Cerebral Palsy might be a bit more tightly contracted, and more resistant to increasing flexibility, but in my experience,  just like anybody who has a tight muscle, it will require consistency with the right exercises and activities to begin achieving positive improvements.

It’s evident to me that regardless of your physical condition, the right exercises done consistently over time can only lead to one outcome – health improvement! In my experience…Pilates can be an excellent choice to reach this goal.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


  1. Edith


    I too have a cerebral Palsy client……….. she started with little idea about how to use any leg muscles with control……..fairly severe Palsy down right side….. 12 months later she is now pushing out on the reformer and stretching the back of her ankles under her own steam and slowly getting the hang of using her arms to do mid back laying down exercises using the ropes………

    She doesn’t have understandable speech which makes it hard at times but she makes up for everything with unbounded enthusiam……..

    I am saddened that all Cerebral Palsy children and adults are not automatically given pilates exercises using the reformer which is such a good machine to help them understand muscle control…….


    • Aliesa George

      Hi Edith!

      Thanks so much for sharing your great client story. I am hopeful that someday I will be able to establish a Pilates & CP Foundation, so interested Pilates teachers can reach a larger number of CP children and adults and share the benefit Pilates has to offer for improving brain-body function, coordinated strength, flexibility, and body control. You sound like a gifted teacher to help this client overcome obstacles and achieve improved health and wellness! Congratulations to you both for your enthusiasm, patience, and success.


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