Is Pilates better than surgery?
This provocative question is obviously going to lead to a very personal answer for each individual. However, most recently an intriguing New York Times article, “Why ‘Useless’ Surgery Is Still Popular”, asked the question if popular orthopedic surgeries such as back and knee surgeries, actually provide results to patients. Current research suggests that some surgeries have no better outcomes than guided exercise (Pilates.)
Our Pilates studio works with all sorts of students with a range of orthopedic surgeries such as rotator cuff, knee and hip replacements, bunion surgeries, labial tears, etc. When things go right these surgeries are quickly mentioned on an intake form and we move forward with appropriate precautions.
Unfortunately, over the years I worked with my share of the patient population whose surgeries did not work. Either, because the student is still in just as much pain as before the surgery, some other body part now hurts, he/she is fearful of movement, or he/she still cannot really do the day to day things they once performed. More times than I can count, students remarked “If only I knew Pilates before I considered surgery.” I always wished I reached those students earlier as a failed outcome for surgery is a stressful life event.
So is Pilates better than surgery?
Well that depends, as long as you work with a well trained instructor, there are few side effects other than being more fit and confident in your body.
Obviously, Pilates is not a panacea. But it seems to help with orthopedic joint pain? The following are the three reasons why:
Pilates looks at the whole body and the forces passing through the joints.
Well-trained Pilates instructors who work within his/her scope of practice are trained to see the body work in movement. It is outside of a Pilates teachers scope of practice to look at body scans such as MRI’s and x-rays. This is actually important because many body scans lead to false positive results. For example, many people have torn meniscus but feel no pain. However, if you receive a scan and it shows a torn meniscus you are never told that the torn meniscus may be asymptomatic, in fact 2/3 of meniscus tears people feel no pain.
A Pilates instructor will not just look at your knee, he/she will look at the function of your knee in relationship to your ankle, hip and spine in movement. Having a less laser-beam focus on a single joint allows Pilates instructors the flexibility to think that pain might be stemming from another place. This may be due to improper alignment or function. For example, your low back may be tight one side which can lead to weak lateral rotators (muscles in your hip). This may cause your thigh bone to inwardly rotate and put more pressure on the medial side of your knee. This ultimately may lead to pain.
Pilates has the incredible ability of zeroing in a weakness, or the weakest link in the chain and making it strong again.
Due to Pilates equipment such as the Cadillac, Chair, Mat, Barrels and Reformer Pilates easily ferrets out weak links. Once an instructor notices that your upper back is weak and may be causing pressure on your low back he/she will focus on exercises to strengthen your upper back. Pilates instructors use all his/her ideas and knowledge to make the Pilates session not just effective but fun too. Who wants boring post-rehabilitative exercises?
Pilates is about a relationship with your teacher.
The professional student teacher relationship is not to be overlooked, as having a well-trained eye on you, week after week, that can guide your body to improve is very powerful. This is particularly true if you are still in pain and experienced a failed surgery. You already put your trust in someone and it did not work. This can lead you to be more wary about putting your faith in the next new idea. So remember good Pilates should be teaching you something. At the end of each session you want to feel more in tune and aware of your body’s potential and capacity to heal through movement.
Finally, Pilates instructors only offer post-rehabilitation. So it is best to first get a diagnosis from your doctor, go to physical therapy and then if necessary come to Pilates.
Again surgery may be your only option. It is absolutely necessary in some cases. But for those considering other ideas try investing in Pilates. It will not be an overnight fix, but with solid Pilates instruction who should at the least learn more about your body and develop a stronger whole body.
If you have any questions feel free to send a private email here. anne [@] pilateswithanne.com