Pilates for Rehabilitation: A Holistic Approach to Physical Therapy

Written by, Dr. Karena Wu, Physical Therapist – ActiveCare Physical Therapy


Pilates is a form of exercise that has been used in rehabilitation since the early 20th century. It was invented by Josef Pilates, a German gymnast, and bodybuilder. Originally titled, ‘Contrology’, Pilates was developed based on the concept of integration and comprehensive physical exercise. It was originally used by dancers but Pilates for injury rehabilitation, training, and other purposes has since expanded to the entire population.

How Pilates and Physical Therapy Work Better Together

There are specialized physical therapy clinics that have utilized Pilates for rehabilitation for over 10 years. The benefit of Pilates-based physical therapy is that it is low load and holistic in its approach. There are multiple components of the kinetic chain that need to be addressed to exercise the body to its fullest potential. Pilates physical therapy embraces and emphasizes each component.

Pilates-Based Physical Therapy is Holistic

This type of exercise is a philosophy. Pilates for injury rehabilitation looks at the body as a whole, addressed posture, breathing and then gave the body part a workout, in addition to the rest of the body getting a workout just from positioning, awareness, and activation. Pilates rehab can be difficult if the individual is not in tune with their body and the sheer act of getting into a good posture is too hard.

In rehabilitation, often times individual muscles moving in single planes are having a difficult time. Rehab professionals train those individual muscles and then combine them with other planes of movement/muscles in order to function better.  Everything in rehabilitation is neuromuscular in nature, meaning you are retraining the neural pathways that direct the muscle activation. Pilates-based physical therapy increases body awareness in space or proprioception. At its core, Pilates rehab emphasizes this neuronal circuitry as the individual has to attend to all of the components of their own body. Pilates enhances traditional physical therapy rehabilitation with this emphasis on proprioception.

Pilates Physical Therapy Exercise Recommendations

Many of the exercises used in Pilates for knee rehab and other forms of injury rehabilitation are simple. ‘Normal’ and/or uninjured persons are unable to perform more advanced Pilates exercises with the correct form. Many physicians see patients who state that they do Pilates exercise yet complain of back pain or other injuries. That is why it is important for PTs to emphasize simple, straightforward exercises for Pilates and physical therapy.


Form is Essential

It is important to retrain the individual to correct their form and utilize the whole body correctly when doing Pilates for injury rehabilitation or any other exercise hence the emphasis on more straight planar exercises. If they can master this, then the physical therapist will progress them to more advanced exercises. To disregard the importance of this when it comes to physical therapy and Pilates is not ethical for the safety of clients or their ability to return to their activities without re-injury.

Mat Pilates

Mat Pilates is the hardest form of Pilates physical therapy. Machine-based Pilates rehab will give you resistance but offer assistance during a movement. Mat Pilates-based physical therapy does not let you cheat as it is just you, your body weight and gravity. It is also one of the best forms of exercise that can travel with you as you need nothing other than a mat and some space.

Start 1-on-1

It is recommended to start with an individual lesson in the beginning of Pilates-based physical therapy so that all aspects of activation are covered before performing more complex exercises. Working one-on-one with a PT can ensure you complete the movements in the right way and under supervision, and you can get an exercise treatment prescribed specifically for your needs. Group classes are good from a financial perspective but means you should really know what you are doing and how well you are doing it so as not to get injured. Typically, a combination of group and individualized Pilates and physical therapy training sessions yields the best benefit for the buck.


How Can I Find Pilates Physical Therapy Near Me?

The benefits of Pilates for stroke rehab other injury rehabilitation are clear. The next step is to find a professional that can safely guide you through physical therapy and Pilates. With the BetterPT website or mobile app, you can find a Pilates physical therapy specialist near you. You can count on quality clinics like ActiveCare Physical Therapy and schedule with a physical therapist who is ready to help you explore the benefits of Pilates for injury rehabilitation. Get started today to feel your best!

Dr. Karena Wu is Owner and Clinical Director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy® in NYC and Mumbai with over 19 years of experience. Dr. Karena Wu has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California at Riverside and a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University and received her Clinical Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Temple University.  

Share this post:

Need physical therapy?

Discover physical threapy clinics near you and request an appointment right away!