Have a think for a second about the cardio activity you do each week.
- Maybe you’re a runner and like nothing more than to grab your trainers after work and pound the pavements to let the stresses of the day fade away.
- Perhaps you play netball or hockey for your local team or like to keep active by playing tennis with your friends.
- Or it may be that your ‘thing’ is to head straight for the gym, hop on the cross-trainer or rowing machine and burn off the calories from those too-good-to-resist doughnuts after lunch.
Chances are if you do a lot of cardio work, you’re pretty fit and healthy. But if you’re doing strenuous activity that puts a lot of pressure on joints such as your knees or ankles, for example, then you may well have suffered from an injury at some point in the past that has put paid to your sporting endeavours, temporarily at least.
If that resonates, then the big question is: what are you doing to stop yourself getting injured again so you can keep doing more of the sport you love?
Active people are often plagued by injury
In my experience, more often than not, active people are the most impatient to let their bodies recuperate and heal properly after injuries. Being forced to take time out from their beloved pursuits can be downright frustrating and the last place an active person wants to be is sitting on their backside watching TV when they could be running around outside. As a result, they’ll convince themselves that their body is fully recovered when really it’s probably only about 80% of the way there and will likely return to the sport that took them out of action in the first place sooner than they should. In the worst case scenario, this could then lead to a recurrence of the original injury or the creation of new problems elsewhere in the body as a result of overcompensating for the weakness in the injured area.
Clearly I am generalising here and not all active people would do what I have described above. But if you are one of the many that continue to be plagued by the same injury because you don’t allow your body to recover fully, then maybe it’s time to look at things a little differently.
As the saying goes, if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got! So how about incorporating something else into your regime to complement the activity that you really love and hopefully kick those injuries into touch once and for all?
Pilates for injury rehabilitation and prevention
The prospect of adding another form of exercise into the mix when you’re injured may seem counter-intuitive but the reality is it could actually help you heal faster and protect against future injury recurrences.
One form of exercise that can complement many sporting activities and help with injury rehabilitation is Pilates. Often misunderstood as a ‘light and fluffy’ workout for the uber-flexible twentysomething female, let me enlighten you as to what Pilates really is all about.
Performed either on a mat on the floor or using large pieces of specialist apparatus, Pilates is a challenging but highly effective all-over body conditioning programme.
In a typical lesson, you are given a series of different exercises to perform, each with a focus on a different part of the body and with a strong emphasis on engaging and strengthening your core abdominal muscles throughout. It incorporates exercises that will improve your strength, flexibility and balance. Whatever your needs, a tailored programme can be created to focus on the areas you need to work on. Many of the exercises aren’t weight-bearing either which will lessen the chances of exacerbating the injury.
With every exercise within the Pilates repertoire, emphasis is placed on correct alignment and stability, helping joints to function and muscles to fire in the way they should. The premise is not only about focussing on the area of injury but to look at the body holistically and address (insofar as is possible) any imbalances, correct any postural bad habits and teach positive movement patterns.
Pilates is about precision and awareness as well as reinforcing the connection between mind and body. Through concentrating on utilising the correct muscle groups in each exercise, you will become more aware of your body’s abilities, imbalances and will learn what feels right and where your limitations are, something which is vital if you want to remain injury-free.
It may sound glaringly obvious but it’s worth remembering that if you injure a knee, for example, then there are repercussions for other muscles and joints besides the source of the pain. When functional movements such as walking or running are performed, a single muscle does not work in isolation. Instead, such movements involve a symphony of muscles acting in a highly coordinated manner to affect the desired movement (Isacowitz, R and Clippinger, K 2011).
That’s why Pilates can be so beneficial to people with injuries because it recognises the interconnections between different parts of the body and works to ensure they all operate optimally. Not only does it help to rehabilitate after injury but it also helps to safeguard against future ones too.
But don’t just take my word for it. Research has shown that, when used appropriately, Pilates can be a highly effective tool for therapeutic purposes. Pilates exercises can help patients to recover from injuries and surgery, as well as optimise function in those suffering from chronic conditions (Wood S, 2015).
In one study which looked at the effect of Pilates on partial anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury rehabilitation, 50 participants aged between 20-45 years old were split into a Pilates exercise group (n=24) and a control group (n=26). Those in the Pilates exercise group performed basic mat exercises that focused on the muscle strength and flexibility of the lower limbs and core muscles and met 3 times per week for 12 weeks. The control group did not receive any treatment or home exercise programme.
The results showed that the Pilates group experienced significant improvement over the control group as measured by the difference in quadriceps strength at 12 weeks. Patient satisfaction with the level of knee stability based on the Global Rating of Change scale was higher in the Pilates group than in the control group. Although both groups exhibited improvements in knee strength and functional outcomes, the results suggest that Pilates is a superior management approach over a control treatment for increasing quadriceps strength in participants with partial ACL injury (Celik D and Turkel N, 2015).
Balance out your activities to keep doing what you love
Hopefully it’s hitting home that Pilates can be incredibly effective at helping active people overcome injuries and stay just where they want to be: active and doing what they love. Its adaptability also means that it is accessible to young and old, male and female, injured or not.
Even sporting greats like Andy Murray, Gareth Bale and the All Blacks are muscling in (‘scuse the pun) on the act so clearly it’s not ‘just a girl thing’ after all.
Still suffering with that dodgy hip / knee / shoulder? Well, what are you waiting for?
Footnote: It is essential to get your injury checked out by a medical professional prior to starting any Pilates regime to ensure that the condition is fully diagnosed so that the most appropriate rehabilitation programme can be created.
Derya, C and Nilgun, T. The effectiveness of Pilates for partial anterior cruciate ligament injury. https://link.springer.com/. 2015
Isacowitz R and Clippinger K. Pilates Anatomy. Human Kinetics. 2011
Wood, S. Pilates for Injuries and Pathologies. Body Arts and Science International®. 2015