Most of you have heard of Pilates by now. Some of you may have already tried (and hopefully enjoyed) a class, but perhaps you’ve let it fall by the wayside lately. For some others, you may have written it off entirely, thinking it’s just not something for you. But we urge you to reconsider as the benefits are many, but particularly for those of us living with arthritis.  

Why Pilates? 

Although not enough research has yet been carried out to date, we do know (from mostly anecdotal evidence) that many people living with arthritis find that regular Pilates classes can help improve the quality of their life. According to Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist, Breon White, “It is an exercise approach based on sensible principles and hopefully future research into Pilates and arthritis will show its benefits as part of an overall medical, exercise and wellness approach to help manage arthritis." 

For those with osteoarthritis, Pilates can reduce joint pain and stiffness by increasing muscular strength to help better support the joints, improve flexibility and increase endurance. For those living with axSpA, improved posture and stabilisation of your spine could be enjoyed with regular Pilates moves (ideally by attending one-two classes a week or 20 minutes each day at home yourself).  

The Potential Benefits of Incorporating Pilates into your Daily Life: 

  • improved flexibility and reduced stiffness 

  • increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, back, hips and buttocks (thereby, potentially, reduced joint pain) 

  • improved stabilisation of your spine 

  • improved posture 

  • rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances 

  • improved physical coordination and balance 

  • relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back 

  • stress management and relaxation. 

Why it’s the Perfect Exercise for Beginners 

Pilates is a safe and effective method of rehabilitation and exercise that focuses on improving balance, strength and flexibility. The particularly beneficial aspect of Pilates is that it caters for everyone, from complete beginner to advanced. Also, you don’t necessarily have to attend a class to benefit (although having a qualified teacher to show you the moves is certainly helpful, particularly when you are starting out or when you want to advance to a higher level).  


The fact is that you can perform these exercises at home, using your own body weight, and you can start small, with just four or five different moves, and build from there. The incredibly fascinating thing about this type of exercise, though, is that the longer that someone practices Pilates, the more challenging it can feel as that individual hones skilled moves that become more precise and even more controlled, using more muscle groups than before. This is what also makes it so appealing to commit to long-term, as it never becomes dull or boring.  

Two Simple Exercises to Try Today! 

A typical Pilates workout includes a number of exercises and stretches. Each exercise is performed with attention to correct breathing techniques and abdominal muscle control. You can click into online videos to do more, such as this one for beginners from Jessica Valant, but it is usually advisable to start with an in-person class if that is at all possible. The main reason for this is that you can inform your teacher of the specific type of arthritis you have, and the main areas of your body that it affects, so that she/he can tailor the class to suit and so that they can check on your posture and position during each move. Often teachers readjust your position to ensure that you won’t strain your back or other areas of your body during the moves.  

1) The Pelvic Curl 

1. Start by laying on your back, with knees bent. Knees and heels are hip distance apart. Arms are long and pressing into the mat beside your hips. 

2. Inhale, pause, then exhale. Draw your abdominals in 

3. Begin to engage your glutes, and articulate through the spine, lifting your pelvis off the matt. 

4. Inhale and then pause, finding stability through your centre.  

5. Exhale, and begin to drop your sternum, melting into the mat one vertebrae at a time.  

6. Repeat 5- 6 times.   

2) The Superman 

1. Lie on the floor in a prone (facedown) position, with your legs straight and your arms extended in front of you. 

2) Keeping your head in a neutral position (avoid looking up), slowly lift your arms and legs around 6 inches off the floor, or until you feel your lower back muscles contracting. Engage your glutes, your core, and the muscles between your shoulder blades simultaneously 

3) Aim to lift your belly button slightly off the floor to contract your abs 

4) Hold this position for 2–3 seconds. Keep breathing.  

5) Lower your arms, legs, and belly back to the floor. Repeat this exercise for 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps. 


Before Signing up to a Class 

If you are looking for a class in your area, it’s important to ask for a recommendation from a friend or someone you know. Like with all things, the quality of the teacher will make all the difference to how much you benefit from a Pilates class. Make sure they are a qualified and registered physiotherapist or Pilates professional. Inform them of your arthritis and the areas where you need to be careful as they will adjust their instructions to benefit you the most and to help avoid injury (such as offering you a block to sit on or amending exercises to consider any physical challenges you may have).  

No Time like the Present! 

If youre interested in doing one of Arthritis Ireland’s Be Active with Arthritis classes, designed specifically for those living with arthritis and delivered (free) by a chartered physiotherapist, please visit the course section of our website here. 

To learn more about exercise and other factors (known as ‘lifestyle medicine’) that can help you manage your arthritis as best as you possibly can, listen to our podcast with Úna Martin and Dr Kate McCann here. 

To watch our video recording with Breon White, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist at the Mater University Hospital, as he discusses living with axSpA with CEO of Arthritis Ireland, Gráinne O’Leary, click here 

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy an active and enjoyable month of April!