Pilates to Cure Chronic Conditions

Angeles Rios recently sent us her story hoping to inspire and help others suffering from a painful condition known as ankylosing spondylitis. For Angeles, Pilates has increased the quality of her life and given her tools to help others that are seeking more than prescriptions and medical treatments offered by some doctors. Perhaps this is exactly what Joe had in mind. We are so grateful for people like Angeles who are sharing the miracles that Pilates can bring. The story of her journey back to health and happiness is invigorating and touching.

I got into a regular practice of Pilates after seeing many practitioners - doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors - none of whom seemed to have a clue on how to help me with my back pain other than taking anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers. After 10 years of experiencing cluelessness and the side effects of taking such drugs, I was referred to a rheumatologist who finally diagnosed me with ankylosing spondylitis. After being diagnosed with AS, I was recommended to take a biologic drug that totally changed my life for the better.

Through this process, I had continued to practice Pilates and became a teacher in this empowering method. I kept practicing Pilates, especially what is called Pre-Pilates, because the system was adaptable to how I was feeling - from being in a flare to undergoing remission. For those of you who are not familiar these terms, it meant going from a state where I could barely walk to being able to join friends to run and climb walls in a Dirty Girl Mud Run.

During my first private session in Pilates, my instructor focused on breath work and helped me understand how the pelvis and the rest of my body moved from my center. At the time, I brought her a tensed, stiff, and painful body. After practicing pelvic rocks, core work, and receiving cues on improving my body awareness and posture, I left many of my sessions feeling more energy and ease in movement - or what Joseph Pilates probably called “zest."

However, some of these sessions did not lead me to better movement. During these sessions, I found simple transitional movements (ex. rotating my body from supine to sideline on the mat) to close-chained footwork made my pain worse. During these times, I would have to end the sessions early or focus on breath work. I viewed these unexplainable and yet humbling experiences as minor bumps on the road. As a former athlete in water polo, wrestling, and swimming, I was not going to give up on moving my body and getting stronger. I took these sessions as learning experiences on what not to do during different types of flares. Overtime and between such flares, I was rewarded for my resilience. I started to notice a steady progression in my core strength, body awareness, posture, and ease in movement.

Although with each flare, my progression negated some of the noted progress in my strength and connection to my body, I TRUSTED that my muscle memory would work itself out after the flare. I write TRUST in major capital letters because there were no resources for me to follow at the time. I didn’t have a clear diagnosis and even after this fact, there was not much research or many practitioners who I knew had positive experiences working with clients like me. I just knew from my gut that a lot of these sessions just made me feel better than other types of work. And what gold it is to feel an ounce better when I felt terrible and exhausted on daily basis.

As an important note, I started practicing Pilates in private sessions 5 years before being diagnosed with AS. I am saying this because as a Pilates practitioner, you may come across students who may demonstrate conditions not fully supported by their healthcare system. I challenge you to encourage your students to keep communicating with their doctors, and also that you know that your Pilates tools, as well as your social support, can provide an invaluable therapeutic outlet for folks with AS and other chronic conditions.

Angeles Rios is a Pilates Instructor at Rios Strength.


1 person likes this.
Wonderful article. I am a pilates Instructor of 13 years just diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and errosive osteo arthritis. New territory going from athlete to weak constant pain person.She was a strong voice of wisdom and encouragement, thank you.
1 person likes this.
I see a Gyrotonic machine beside your Ladder Barrel ;) Inspiring story! Thank you and warm greetings!
Thank you Angeles. Very inspiring!
1 person likes this.
Thanks for reading my story. I am glad it provided inspiration to you all. As a practitioner and teacher, I find it helpful to be reminded about the empowering aspect of the work we do. Please feel free to ask me any questions and I will see what I can do to help.
1 person likes this.
Thanks for sharing this story. I have suffered from AS for over 20 years and last year it went into a major flare up. It's taken at least 18 months to recover from this. I discovered pilates about 3-4 years ago and it really changed my life. I found it was the perfect therapy, pain relief and have since become an instructor. I am now able to teach pilates to other AS sufferers. It is SO empowering and wonderful to share the benefits with others.
1 person likes this.
This is an amazing story! Well done :) It comes at a perfect time for me as I have a new client who suffers with the same condition as well as his 12 year old son. I have told them to be patient as we might not be able to do miracles at first, but he will most definitely see a difference. I am so proud to be doing this.. as you truly say Angeles, we have a highly empowering profession! Kristi, thank you for bringing such stories to the world in general. They serve as an assurance that what we do is ultimately for the benefit of others and that in itself is so rewarding for me. x
Anita and Clare - Thank you for sharing your stories regarding AS. If you have any questions regarding the Pilates approach - in addition to other modalities - I have used to take care of my AS, please let me know.
1 person likes this.
Angeles, what a life-affirming story.
You are an inspiration!
Hi Angeles, thank you so much for sharing your story. Please do share what other modalities you used to take care of your AS. Very much appreciate it in advance!
Check out the suggested treatments found on Spondylitis Association of America (//www.spondylitis.org/about/alternative .aspx). They go into detail on the general stance for "alternative" treatment for people with Spondylitis. As for me, I have used restorative care (meaning gentle and nonactive modalities) when in a flare. When in remission, I use both restorative and active modalities. As a FYI: after meeting so many people with spondylitis, I have found a lot of variation on how spondylitis has impacted them and what people are willing to do and have access in care. Hence, what worked for me may be different on what works someone else.
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