Pilates, Moving from Injury Back to Peak performance

Julia Rosenthal PT, DPT

Julia Pilates

As an avid high intensity exerciser, I am always looking to push myself in my workouts. When pain gets in the way of my progress, it can be extremely frustrating. For years, I have been struggling with chronic hip and sacroiliac joint (low back) pain. These symptoms intensified about two and a half years ago when I fractured a lumbar vertebra weight lifting. Recovery was hard, and during that time I was told by doctors, friends, and family that I could not or should not return to the things I loved: lifting heavy weights and running outside. I was devastated. I tried swimming, biking, the crazy looking stair treadmill at the gym, and while I was able to get some exercise in, I still felt like I had lost one of the things that brought me the most joy.

Months after my injury, I finally started listening to my body and my physical therapist friends rather than the limiting and negative advice I had gotten. I started returning to weight lifting and running and began trying not to judge myself for the strength I had lost. The more I did, the better I felt. I was scared, but I felt liberated at the same time. But despite making some initial progress, I started to hit a wall. I couldn’t deadlift as much as I could before, I couldn’t lift as much overhead, and I was too afraid to run on concrete or to get in a squat rack, which was where I had hurt myself all those months ago. I started to feel that hip and sacroiliac (SIJ) pain again after every workout, and I knew I had to change something about what I was doing.

Enter: Pilates. Pilates and weight lifting are both forms of resistance training, but there are key differences between them that make Pilates an effective form of cross training for a weightlifter. When you do any singular form of exercise, your body is learning how to complete a task one way. Introducing a different form of exercises gives you variability, and teaches your body to work under lots of different conditions using different muscle groups. The more options our bodies have for how to complete a task (like a deadlift), the stronger we become.

Here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, I had the opportunity to work with Kierstin Elliot,a certified Pilates instructor with a wealth of experience working with clients who struggle with orthopedic issues, including pelvic floor dysfunction. “In Pilates,” Kierstin explained, “subtle nuances matter and you have to be a stickler for form and alignment.” Weightlifting athletes, on the other hand, generally focus more on larger, more powerful movements. Because of these differences, Pilates can make a big difference when it comes to increasing strength and decreasing injury in people who typically exercise with high resistance. In the months that I spent working one on one with Kierstin, I achieved personal bests in my squat and my deadlift and could feel that I was much more steady in any single leg weight lifting activity.

If you like to lift weights and you want to see your performance improve, here are 5 specific ways that Pilates can up your weight lifting game:

  1. Eccentric Strengthening
    1. While weight lifting certainly helps to develop core strength, Pilates does so using lighter weights and more eccentric contractions. Eccentric contractions require muscles to work and lengthen at the same time. Typically, weightlifting and other forms of exercise will strengthen the core in a concentric way, meaning the muscles are asked to shorten and tighten in order to build strength. While both are effective, the best option is a combination – variability is key. Eccentric contractions are also a great way to increase mobility.
  2. Increasing Mobility in the Spine and Extremities
    1. The demands on the spine are very different in weight lifting versus Pilates. Lifting heavier weights requires you to maintain a certain amount of stiffness in the spine to protect it against a heavier load. While that is an important skill (think about how hard it can be to lift a heavy suitcase, stroller, car seat, etc.), it is also important to be able to manage resistance at times when our back can’t be in a “neutral” position, like when you’re putting a baby in a crib or digging things out of your storage unit. Pilates exercises are done at lower resistance and in various different spinal positions: flexion, extension, side-bending, and rotation. This allows you to learn to move well under tension in lots of different positions.
    2. Pilates is also a great way to increase your hip and shoulder mobility, both of which are important for weight lifting. Squatting, deadlifting, and overhead movements were the things I was having the hardest time progressing back to, and these all require good shoulder and hip mobility. Pilates exercises are often done with the trunk supported, and with resistance applied to the limbs by springs. This means that there are more eccentric contractions involved (working and lengthening at the same time), which can be a great way to improve strength and mobility at the same time.
  3. Increasing Stability
    1. Weightlifting focuses on powerful movements. These types of movements will require increased work from our larger “global” muscles which tend to be longer and move lots of joints at the same time. While strengthening these muscles is important, using Pilates to strengthen the smaller “stabilizing” muscles is a great way to enhance the strength of the global musculature. When we do a big, powerful movement, we need the smaller stabilizing muscles to automatically fire too – this enhances our overall strength, improves our balance, and makes us less prone to injury.
  4. Increasing Endurance
    1. Training for increased endurance means training at a lower weight and performing more repetitions. In weightlifting, the goal is to work at a higher percentage of your 1 rep maximum, meaning the greatest amount of weight that you would be able to lift once. In Pilates, on the other hand, lighter resistance is used for more repetitions.
  5. Increasing Body Awareness
    1. Proprioception is the sense that allows us to know where our bodies are in space. Exercises that are done in a closed chain – meaning one of your body parts is in contact with a fixed surface – enhance this sense. Because reformer Pilates includes spring tension with your feet or hands in contact with a surface, almost all exercises are done in a closed chain. This can be a really great way to ease into a movement after an injury. The support of a closed chain exercise allows you to tailor the movement to your current level as you progress back towards more traditional open chain (no contact with a surface) weightlifting movements.

Thanks for reading! I hope this blog post helped you understand how you can take your training to the next level. If you are interested in experiencing what Pilates can offer or how physical therapy can maximize your athletic potential, please call our midtown (212-354-2622) or downtown office (212-267-0240) today!

 

Check out what Kierstin has to say about Pilates here!

The Benefits of Pilates While Healing Diastasis Recti

Pilates with Kierstin! Standing Side Splits

Pilates with Kierstin! Bridges with Stability Ball

References:

  1. Ahearn EL, Greene A, Lasner A. Some Effects of Supplemental Pilates Training on the Posture, Strength, and Flexibility of Dancers 17 to 22 Years of Age. Journal of dance medicine & science : official publication of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. 2018;22(4):192-202.
  2. Di Lorenzo CE. Pilates: what is it? Should it be used in rehabilitation? Sports health. 2011;3(4):352-361.
  3. Phrompaet S, Paungmali A, Pirunsan U, Sitilertpisan P. Effects of pilates training on lumbo-pelvic stability and flexibility. Asian journal of sports medicine. 2011;2(1):16-22.
  4. Queiroz BC, Cagliari MF, Amorim CF, Sacco IC. Muscle activation during four Pilates core stability exercises in quadruped position. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010;91(1):86-92.
  5. Valenza MC, Rodriguez-Torres J, Cabrera-Martos I, Diaz-Pelegrina A, Aguilar-Ferrandiz ME, Castellote-Caballero Y. Results of a Pilates exercise program in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical rehabilitation. 2017;31(6):753-760.
  6. Why Pilates and Lifting Weights Aren’t Mutually Exclusive – Girls Gone Strong. Girls Gone Strong. https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/blog/strength-training/why-pilates-and-lifting-weights-arent-mutually-exclusive/. Published 2019. Accessed May 26, 2019.

Pilates with Kierstin! Bridges with Stability Ball

Kierstin Elliot

Exercise: Bridges with Stability Ball

Set Up: Lie on your back with knees bent, with left foot flat on the mat, and stability ball under the right foot. Arms resting by your sides. Neutral pelvis.

Execution: Inhale to prep. Exhale to lift pelvis off the mat into bridge position while pressing left foot firmly into the mat and right foot firmly into the stability ball. Hold bridge for one breath, then lower with control maintaining a neutral pelvis. Repeat 5-10 times on this side and then switch to the other leg.

Focus: Keep pelvis completely level throughout the entire exercise. Be sure to not overuse or arch the lower back. Ribs should be flush with abdomen and the knees should be reaching over the toes.

Importance: Key muscles targeted in this exercise are the glutes and hamstrings! Pelvic and core stability are also challenged due to the stability ball. If you feel only your hamstrings engaging as you bridge, move heels closer to sits bones. This should help the glutes turn on.

Modifications: If you find adding the stability ball too challenging, don’t continue using it with faulty form. Try marching slowly in a bridge position- hold the right leg up for 5 counts, then slowly transfer to left leg lifting for five counts. Keep alternating legs being sure the pelvis stays level and glutes and hamstrings are engaged. If you find you pelvis dropping on one side as you do this, then do fewer repetitions to start.

Pilates with Kierstin! Slingshot Lunges on the Reformer

Just in time for your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s another awesome exercise from Kierstin Elliot, Pilates Teacher at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy!

Goal: Strengthen the glutes and balance 

Exercise: Slingshot Lunges on the Reformer

Set Up: Standing on the floor with right foot near foot bar and left foot against the shoulder rest. Keep left knee straight and tilt upper body forward creating one long diagonal line from head to back toes. Use one blue spring as resistance. Belly button and chin are tucked in with neck lengthened and shoulders rounded back.

Execution: Inhale to send pelvis back into lunge bending the front knee 90 degrees while reaching arms forward and keeping the pelvis level and squared off to the front. Keep shoulders away from ears. Exhale to straighten the front knee, lower arms to sides, and return to your starting position.

Focus: Be sure to keep proper alignment throughout the spine. Lumbar spine should be elongated and supported throughout the entire exercise. Maintain core connection by dropping bottom ribs towards the top of your hips bones. Hips should also be level and squared off to the front- make sure there’s no pelvic rotation during lunges.

Importance: One of the best exercises for strengthening your glutes! This exercise also enhances your ability to stabilize the pelvis and lower back while connecting to the core for improved balance.

Modifications: Limit the range of motion in standard position, or drop back knee to the carriage. Dropping the back knee may draw more focus to the quad, making the exercise feel more like a stretch, however, the focus should still be held on standing glute. For an added challenge, grab a set of 3 pound free weights for your arms for added core control.

Pilates and the Pelvic Floor

 

Gym CadillacKierstin Elliott, Pilates Instructor at BBPT

Breath. Breath is the common denominator for understanding how pilates can enhance the pelvic floor’s function. Reciprocally, using your pelvic floor correctly can deepen your connection to your pilates practice.

Let’s take a look at how to optimize your breath in the first place. A deep, three dimensional breath utilizes your diaphragm to its fullest extent. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts forming a dome shape under the rib cage while simultaneously lengthening the pelvic floor creating a cylindrical shape within your torso.

There are two options for the rib cage while you take this inhale. Option one involves flaring the ribs outward during the breath. Option two involves narrowing the ribs slightly down towards your ASIS (hip bones). When we breathe with a more neutral, tapered rib cage, we utilize the second option for rib placement, thus finding our Zone of Apposition (ZOA). Breathing within the ZOA provides us with the most efficient breath we can take. Once the ribs are placed properly over the pelvis, we’re able to create the cylindrical shape within the torso and the relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor is optimized!

Pilates is rooted in core strengthening principles that directly correlate to breath and the ZOA. In order to keep your ribs from flaring, ultimately keeping you from finding the ZOA, you need to have a sense of abdominal control. There are a handful of ways to find the ZOA, but one of my favorite cues to use with clients is to “narrow your ribs toward your naval.” Try this on your own either lying down, sitting, or standing, and notice what happens to your abs as soon as you taper, or narrow, your ribs toward your naval. You should feel some muscle tone over your stomach. AKA your abs kicking in!

Once you’ve achieved proper rib placement, ab engagement, and optimal breath, layering various exercises into your program will be much more attainable. It requires a good amount of body awareness to be able to coordinate these three major concepts before advancing through your pilates practice. It’s also important to concentrate on how your pelvic floor is reacting to your breath and movement. In footwork, for example, you start in neutral spine and exhale as you press the carriage out feeling a slight contraction in the pelvic floor. On the inhale, knees bend pulling the carriage back to it’s starting position while the tailbone drops slightly and the sits bones widen allowing you to lengthen the pelvic floor. (Prime example of moving within your ZOA).

As you can see, the pelvic floor plays a huge role in breath and core activation which is the root foundation of all your pilates and basic core exercises! If this interests you, or utterly confuses you, schedule a pilates session with me at Beyond Basics!

Call us today at 212-354-2622

Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Pelvic 3

By: Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

What is the sacroiliac joint?

You’ve probably heard of SI pain, but what is the SIJ and what can we do if something goes wrong?

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) connects the sacrum, the wedge-shaped bone at the bottom of the spine, to the ilium, which is one of three bones that make up each half of the pelvis. (1) The sacroiliac joint is designated as a diarthrodial joint, which means it is a moveable joint that is surrounded by connective tissue. (2,3) Each joint is supported mainly by ligaments that lie in front and behind it, that are made up of strong, threadlike types of connective tissue. Stability is also enhanced through ligaments that connect between the spine and the sacrum (sacrospinous ligament), and the sit bone and the sacrum (sacrotuberous ligament). (2)

The SIJ helps us to walk and change positions by being stable enough to move weight from the spine to the legs, while allowing for a small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis. This small amount of movement between the spine and the pelvis is also important as it allows for the pelvis to expand to make childbirth easier. (2,4) These functions can occur due to the unique design of the SIJ.

According to a well-known researcher named Andry Vleeming, the SIJ gains its stability in one of two ways: through form closure or force closure. Form closure refers to the stability provided by the bony surfaces of the sacrum and ilium, which fit together like a puzzle. You may use this type of stability, for instance, when you are lifting a heavy box, or pushing a very full cart of groceries; you want your SIJ to be as immobile as possible so your trunk can be stiff and rigid, allowing you to move a heavy load without overstressing any muscles in your back. Force closure describes stability occurring through the ligaments and muscles around the joint; this allows for more movement to occur. For this type of stability, think salsa dancing. In salsa dancing you need a great deal of hip and pelvic movement; however, you need those movements to be in control so you can move with precision along with the quick beat of the music. (5-7)

 

What is sacroiliac joint dysfunction?

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SIJD) is a common cause of low back pain, accounting for up to 40% of cases of nonspecific low back pain. (4,8) It can occur in any population: males and females; those with a sedentary lifestyle and those who are athletes. However, there seems to be a slightly greater occurrence in women, with the theory being that since the joint surface in women is smaller and less curved, the SIJ may become dislodged more easily. (2,4) SIJD can have a negative impact on quality of life, from being less active to having a financial impact. For instance, indirect health-care costs associated with low back pain range from $7-$28 billion per year, and individuals lose an estimated 5.2 hours of work time per week. (4)

The origin of SIJ pain is unknown; however, factors that may contribute include fractures, ligamentous injuries, or inflammation that occur with excessive stress to the SIJ. (8) Risk factors for developing SIJD include abnormal walking patterns, differences in leg length, scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), heavy physical exertion, trauma, pregnancy, and back surgery. (8) Presentation of symptoms can vary quite a bit; however, individuals with SIJD often present with achy low back pain that can make it difficult to find a comfortable position. Pain may worsen with running, climbing stairs, or standing from a seated position. Also, if pain is truly coming from the SIJ, a person will not experience symptoms down into the leg, as is seen with sciatic nerve involvement. (4)

 

How is SIJD diagnosed?

SIJD can be very challenging to diagnose due to the complexity of the joint itself, as well as the variation in pain patterns that can be seen; thus, if you visit a healthcare provider, you may find he or she performs an array of components in an examination. Many individuals have tenderness with touch over the joint; this can help a healthcare provider rule in SIJD. (2,8). Also, various orthopedic tests can be performed that put stress on this joint, such as by putting a person’s trunk or leg in a certain position to see if it recreates symptoms. (2) Imaging can be performed in this area, but it rarely provides clear information that can help make a diagnosis; however, a doctor might recommend it if there is a concern for infection, inflammation, fracture, or other more serious conditions. (2) Injections into the SIJ itself can also be used to help diagnosis this condition, and are shown to be one of the single-most definitive diagnostic tools available. (2) Overall, effective diagnosis for dysfunction at the SIJ requires the use of multiple tools to help increase the accuracy of the condition being ruled in or out.

 

How can this impact function? Why does it matter?

It is hypothesized that SIJD can have such a significant impact on quality of life because it results in inadequate stability at the joint during movement. If the SIJ is unable to maintain an optimal level of stability, then excessive stresses will likely be placed on surrounding structures and tissues when each leg has body weight going through it. This can lead to other areas of pain, and potentially start the process of degeneration. (4) A recent research group looked at the impact of SIJD on a simple, but common functional task of rising from a chair. They found that in individuals with SIJD, there were significant differences in the amount of weight a person was putting through the leg on the painful side, as well as in the amount of bend at the hips when sitting. They also found that when individuals began to rise from a chair, muscles on the side of SIJ did not turn on right away, which means the muscles were not helping to keep the SIJ from moving too much. (4) Thus, this condition can make it challenging to use the body efficiently due to pain and weakness, which can negatively impact function throughout a given day.

 

What can physical therapy do?

Once a person is diagnosed with SIJD, what can be done? Research has shown that non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy, can be very beneficial for someone with SIJD. If you see a physical therapist, you will likely receive some variation of joint mobilization and exercise, which is shown to help achieve significant improvements in pain, function, alignment, and muscle control. Exercise programs that emphasized pelvic stability through core, pelvic floor, and gluteus (hip and buttock) exercises, as well as increasing the strength of hip rotator muscles, decreased pain and decreased reported disability after a range of 8-12 weeks. (8,9) In other studies, an exercise program that focused mostly on gluteus maximus strengthening was utilized, since this muscle is considered one of the primary stabilizers of the SIJ. The exercises in these programs included bridging, single leg bridging, hip extension on hands and knees, fire hydrants, deadlifts, and single-leg squatting. In these studies, participants reported less pain after the course of treatment, demonstrated increased muscle strength, and returned to normal daily activities. (10,11) While there is no set exercise protocol established at this point, a strengthening program, with or without a home program, is a mainstay for treating this condition, and results in improved function.

 

Are there other treatments?

In some cases, physical therapy alone is unable to resolve the issue. In these situations, a patient may be given an injection of corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, in or around the SIJ. Prolotherapy is also sometimes used in this population to help reconstruct or regenerate damaged or weakened connective tissue. While it is helpful to know what other options are out there, it is important to note that the research in these areas is continuing to develop, and there is no consensus on dosage or who is the optimal candidate. (2)

 

Conclusion

The sacroiliac joint is a complex joint between the back and the pelvis, that allows for minimal mobility, and is required to maintain stability between the trunk and the legs. It can become painful due to direct or indirect trauma, which can have a significant impact on function and quality of life. While diagnosis can be tricky due to the wide variety of symptoms, research is finding that conservative care through physical therapy can make a significant difference by promoting optimal alignment and stability. If you or someone you know is struggling with sacroiliac joint dysfunction, make an appointment with a physical therapist today to help improve function. Feel free to contact our office at 212-354-2622, or visit our website (www.beyondbasicsphysicaltherapy.com) for more information!

 

 

Sources:

1. Ullrich, Peter F. “Sacroiliac Joint Anatomy.” Spine-Health, www.spine-health.com/conditions/spine-anatomy/sacroiliac-joint-anatomy.

2. Peebles R, Jonas CE. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction in the athlete: diagnosis and management. Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 16, no. 5, 2017, pp. 336-342.

3. “Diarthrodial Joint.” Biology Online, www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Diarthrodial_ joint.

4. Capobianco RA, Feeney DF, Jeffers JR, et al. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction patients exhibit altered movement strategies when performing a sit-to-stand task. The Spine Journal, 2018, DOI: https://doiorg/10.1016/j.spinee.2018.03.008.

5. Vleeming A, Stoeckart R, Volkers AC, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac joint. Part I: Clinical anatomical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 130-132.

6. Vleeming A, Volkers AC, Snijders CJ, et al. Relation between form and function in the sacroiliac jt. Part II: Biomechanical aspects. Spine, vol 15, 1990, pp. 133-136.

7. Vleeming A, Schuenke MD, Masi AT, et al. The sacroiliac joint: an overview of its anatomy, function, and potential clinical implications. J Anat, vol 221, 2012, pp. 537-567.

8. Al-Subahi M, Alayat M, Alshehri MA, et al. The effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for the sacroiliac joint dysfunction: a systematic review. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 29, 2017, pp. 1689-1694.

9. Albright J, Allman R, Bonfiglio RP, et al. Philadelphia Panel Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines on Selected Rehabilitation Interventions for Low Back Pain, Physical Therapy, vol 81, n 10, 2001, pp. 1641–1674.

10. Added MAN, de Freitas DG, Kasawara KT, et al. Strengthening the gluteus maximus in subjects with sacroiliac dysfunction. International Journal of Sports Phys Ther, vol 13, n 1, 2018, pp. 114-120.

11. Yoo WG. Effect of the single-leg, lateral oblique, decline squat exercise on sacroiliac joint pain with knee pain. J Phys Ther Sci, vol 28, 2016, pp. 2688-2689.

Pilates Blog: Centering

Denise Small, PT, DPT

In today’s Pilates blog, we are going to discuss the basic principle of Centering.  Pilates used the word centering to refer to the “core” musculature.  He believed that all movements should radiate out of the core for maximum stability.  There is a lot of use of the word “core” in exercise literature. However, no one ever discusses what that actual means. In the Pilates method, the “core” refers to the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the deep spinal muscles, and the transverse abdominus.  The transverse abdominus is a deep abdominal muscle that is attached to our pelvic bones in a horizontal fashion, from one hip bone to the other. One way to find these muscles is by breathing, as all the core muscles are attached to the diaphragm and ribs via fascial connections.

Try this exercise to find your “core.”  Lie on your back with your knees bent. If you need, you can have a small pillow under your head for support.  Now, imagine that you have a small, helium filled balloon in your abdomen behind your navel.  As you inhale see the balloon expand. As you exhale, imagine the balloon being hugged by your navel and your spine, simultaneously.  On your next exhale keep that image of hugging the balloon as it floats up into your ribcage.   This image incorporates the three dimensions of our torso, aka the “core” of our body.

ballon

There is no need to think of contracting individual muscles. Just keep this vision in mind and you will have a wonderfully functional core.  Go over this exercise with your PT in your next session, or come see me for a private session at Beyond Basics. Your body, and your core, will thank you!

PT In-Service: Alignment and Core Exercises

By Amy Stein

Our famous Dania Kafka, who is an amazing physical therapist and Pilates instructor, recently discussed alignment, posture and core exercises correctly at our latest PT In-Service. She helped us with proper cueing because we don’t want pelvic pain patients to utilize the pelvic floor muscles, or limit their use, with any core stabilization exercises. We went over how to gently engage the transverse abdominus, which is one of the core muscles and helps with pelvic and trunk stability. If this muscle is weak and the patient is overusing their pelvic floor, they can end up with pelvic pain. Core and trunk muscle imbalances can be one of many reasons a patient ends up with pelvic pain and/or pelvic weakness. Therefore, it is important to have a strong and balanced core. Dania proceeded to lead us through a series of transverse abdominus exercises that were adapted by Shirley Sahrmann, PT, and we incorporated diaphragmatic breathing with each exercise. We practiced neutral spine versus posterior pelvic tilt to compare the difference, and discussed with which populations we would use which position.

2015 3762015 377

2015 372

With any pain condition, if there are active trigger points, tightened and/or shortened tissue, you need to address these impairments prior to strengthening these muscles. Otherwise you can exacerbate trigger points and continue to shorten tissues. It is essential to make sure these conditions are resolved prior to starting a core exercise to that specific area.

With regard to pelvic floor weakness, including incontinence and post surgical weakness (prostatectomy, prolapse, etc.), it is important to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles correctly and the transverse abdominus correctly, as well as the rest of the core muscles.

Monitoring each patient with each exercise, is essential for their recovery, in order not to worsen any condition. Starting slow and in a controlled environment is key.

If you have any questions with regard to Pilates and core exercises and when to introduce them for pelvic pain, or pelvic weakness, feel free to call us and ask for any of our PTs. Or, attend our upcoming Pelvic Health 101 this spring!