Physical activity and exercise plays an important role in helping people to manage their MS symptoms and improve quality of life with MS.

A randomised clinical trial has tested whether pilates, which focuses on controlled movements and targets core muscles, is beneficial for people with MS.

Pilates was found to improve walking distance and functional mobility in people with MS, showing that Pilates is a safe and effective form of exercise.

It is widely recognised that physical activity and exercise are important in helping people with MS to manage their disease and improve their quality of life. However, there is no clear evidence as yet that one particular form of exercise is better than another, or exactly how much exercise is enough.

Pilates, an exercise regime invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, is known to strengthen and tone muscles, improve core strength, increase flexibility, help with balance and improve a person’s range of motion. Pilates uses controlled whole body movements, and sometimes includes the use of specialised equipment, to work major muscle groups of the body. Now, a clinical trial has examined whether Pilates might be a beneficial form of exercise for people with MS.

The clinical trial tested whether people with MS who attended a Pilates class twice a week over three months made improvements in walking and mobility. 30 people with MS took part in the study and either attended Pilates classes and received therapeutic massage or received the massage therapy alone.

The researchers then tested whether Pilates made a difference to a variety of outcomes including walking performance, functional ability, balance, flexibility, body composition, core endurance and quadriceps (thigh) muscle strength.

Improved mobility

The results, published in the International Journal of MS Care, showed that the people with MS who attended the Pilates classes had a 15% improvement in the distance that they could walk and increased functional mobility. This improvement was measured through the “timed up and go” test, in which participants were required to stand from a seated position, walk three metres, turn around and sit back down.

The researchers suggest that these physical improvements are likely to be due to the Pilates exercises that participants undertook, which focus on improving gait and maintaining alignment. However, other outcomes, such as balance, flexibility, muscle strength and body composition, were not improved.

Often, people with MS are unsure as to whether particular types of exercise are safe to do. This clinical trial included people with all types of MS, at different levels of severity and people who had had relapses within the last 30 days, as well as people whose disease was more stable. Whilst the functional changes were small, these changes could make an important difference to day-to-day quality of life with MS.

This type of research is important to show that Pilates is a safe and effective form of exercise for people with MS. Other types of exercise have also been shown to be helpful for people with MS. This research adds Pilates to the list of possibilities to help people with MS maintain overall health and manage the symptoms of MS.

With thanks to MS Research Australia – the lead provider of research summaries on our website.