Clinical Pilates for Arthritis Management

"Living with Arthritis is a difficult part of life and affects both young and old people. For most cases, 'Motion is Lotion', and professionally designed Clinical Pilates can help by providing low-impact, and meaningful workouts aimed at Arthritis Management."

Arthritis Management using Clinical Pilates

Do you feel pain and stiffness in your body? 

Do you have trouble moving around in your house? 


Living with arthritis is horrible, which is why it’s so important to do everything you can do to improve your situation.


Arthritis literally means ‘joint inflammation’, coming from the Greek words “arthron” (joint) and “itis” (inflammation). This inflammation can cause pain and stiffness in the joints, making simple movements such as climbing stairs or buttoning your shirt, a very painful experience.  


Although joint inflammation is more of a symptom rather than a diagnosis, the term arthritis is largely used for describing any kind of joint disorders.


So What is Arthritis?

In reality, arthritis is not a single disease but an informal way of describing a joint disease. It encompasses more than 100 different types of arthritis (1) and related conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, lupus, juvenile arthritis, and many more.


Simply put: Arthritis isn’t just for old people: it’s a condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds.


Common symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness and decrease in the range of motion. These symptoms may come and go or may progress and even get worse over time.


Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among the adult population in the US (2), which has resulted in more than 17% of hospitalization in 2011 (3). Arthritis affects more than one in four adults (4) with influencing people of all ages, races and gender.


As people don’t seek help until their symptoms become severe, it is difficult to estimate the true number of individuals living with arthritis. Estimates including only doctor-diagnosed arthritis, indicate that more than 54 million adults and around 300,000 children suffer from arthritis or some kind of rheumatic diseases.

I Think I Have Arthritis. Where do I Start?

The most important thing in arthritis is to get an accurate diagnosis of your joint pain.  As you can imagine, with so many different joint conditions, it’s easy to make the wrong assumptions and think that nothing can be done!


Step 1 is to talk to your primary healthcare provider, get the right diagnosis, and then you know you’ll be getting the right solutions.


Maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity are two golden rules for successful arthritis management.  Moreover, there are several things that can be done to preserve mobility, joint function and quality of life. Clinical Pilates is one such effective modality, that has been proven effective at reducing your reliance on drugs or surgery.

What is Clinical Pilates?

Clinical Pilates is highly recommended in arthritis management, as it is an ideal exercise which has a lower impact on your already painful joints.


This low impact exercise is named after the system’s creator: Joseph Pilates.  The original Pilates system was developed before and after World War 2, working with bed-ridden patients, and incorporated its fair share of real science and also plenty of guesswork (like most systems of the time).


Having now existed for more than 70 years, there are now two very distinct types of Pilates: fitness Pilates, and Clinical Pilates.  The Clinical system is unique in that it’s run by fully-trained Physiotherapists, who through Scientific studies, have removed a lot of that early guesswork, building up a reliable system that gets great results.  What we have today is a great system with solid science behind it (as you will see from the references littered throughout our articles!).


Clinical Pilates focuses on core stability. It keeps your spine healthy and helps your body stay balanced.  Most importantly, it’s extremely low-impact on the joints, with hundreds of targeted exercises to achieve very personalised outcomes.


This means that Clinical Pilates is great for arthritis patients who normally shy away from exercises, as they believe they can’t do them without making their pain worse.  It’s gentle on the cartilage, ligaments, and other parts of your joints, while still maintaining a good result.

Is Clinical Pilates Good in Arthritis Management?

When it comes to arthritis, giving up and not moving is simply not an option.  We have to live our lives to the fullest from the beginning to the very end. You can’t be on pain drugs for decades, and surgery has a very low success rate, and is usually a temporary fix.  That leaves careful exercise, weight loss, and functional movement as the keys to successful arthritis management in the long-term.


One of my favourite Physio sayings is ‘Motion is Lotion”.  It perfectly sums up what Clinical Pilates offers to arthritis sufferers.  Simply put, you have to move a joint to stimulate blood flow, assist waste removal, and facilitate normal function.


But when it comes to arthritis, a “one size fits all approach” is not viable.  Exercises need to gently move the joints, keep your supporting muscles strong, and keep your weight low to reduce stress on the joints.  Here’s where Clinical Pilates’ tailored option comes in. With infinitely modifiable positions and resistances, each client gets a fully personalised programme that is suited to their needs.

1 - Clinical Pilates helps you strengthen your core

Arthritis patients often have weak core muscles due to muscle inactivity, degenerative spine changes and maybe, chronic pain.


Through a series of targeted movements, Clinical Pilates strengthens your core by training you to pull your abs in and up in alignment (5). 


As you strengthen your core, your posture is improved which eases the pressure on your joints, especially your spine and hips.

2 - Increases strength and decreases associated pain

Clinical Pilates helps you increase strength levels by working on your lower body, abdominal and dorsal muscles (6). 


By strengthening the muscle groups around a specific joint, you decrease the pain and risk of damaging the joint further (7). For example, if you have strong quads, you decrease the amount of pain in your knees, especially if the pain is because of inflammation under your knee caps.

3 - Improves your functional movement

Clinical Pilates focuses on proper arm, shoulder and neck movements. With a gain in strength and flexibility, you will be better equipped to handle pain episodes and in due course, you can decrease the risk of loss in mobility.


Every time you feel pain in your joints, you may not move that joint as much afterwards, to compensate for the resulting pain. 


Clinical Pilates gently exercises the surrounding muscles and help you regain alignment, so that muscles function properly and you get back your whole range of motion.

4 - Enhances your awareness of body movements and decreases the fear of pain due to movement

As joints start to get more painful, most people start to ‘compensate’, by shifting their body weight and favouring joints that are less painful.  Unfortunately, doing this causes a lot of trouble over time.


By working on your visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems, Clinical Pilates helps you gain back the position and awareness of body movements (8), and most importantly, maintains proper body movement, protecting the joints that aren’t suffering pain as well.


As individuals with arthritis always experience some kind of pain, there are high chances of developing kinesiophobia, that is fear of pain due to movement. 


By increasing the strength and endurance and improving your flexibility and balance parameters, Clinical Pilates also decreases the fear of pain due to movement (9,10) and helps you lead a pain-free life.

5 - Has a positive physical and also a positive social impact

We truly understand how any kind of relief is welcoming for people with arthritis. Clinical Pilates has demonstrated efficacy in reducing joint pain intensity and disability in arthritis patients (11).


By increasing strength in the supporting muscles and decreasing the number of pain episodes, Clinical Pilates can help to build new confidence, and get you back out there, living life.  The smiles on our clients faces are a testament to the success of the system.

Our top 3 Clinical Pilates exercises for managing arthritis

In arthritis management, we focus on strengthening the muscles that cover and support your joints. By working on these muscle groups, you stabilize the joints and eventually reduce the pain associated with arthritis.

1 - Shoulder Bridge

Shoulder Bridge is a classic Pilates exercise. With our sedentary lifestyle, we tend to stress our body structures more, and with time we lose its functional capability.


Arthritis people with weakness in the spine, hips and knees can perform this movement to strengthen and improve its mobility.




Lie down in a neutral position. With your knees bent, start tilting your pelvis. This will help you close the gap between the mat and your lumbar spine.


Now lift your back, vertebrae by vertebrae until a diagonal line is created, all the way from your knees to the shoulder. Make sure the knees are parallel and are not wandering or shaky.


Hold this position for 5 seconds and then lower your spine vertebrae by vertebrae, slowly on to the mat again. Repeat this exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.




Shoulder Bridge is an excellent workout to strengthen and stabilize your whole body. It strengthens the spine, glutes and hamstrings.


Moreover, it also vitalizes your hips and knees and promotes better body awareness, helping you stay relaxed.

2 - The Saw

The saw is another amazing exercise for improving spinal mobility. Over time, pain can make you resist several body movements involving your spine. This may affect its mobility and if left unchecked, may cause your spine to become rigid.


In this exercise, we train your abdominals, especially the obliques and help you stretch your spine. As we do the twist and flex action, a lot of stabilizing back muscles are activated while doing the consistent reach of arm motion.




Sit, and depending on your flexibility, keep the feet flexed. Make sure you’re sitting tall with your bones feeling evenly grounded. Outstretch your arms sideways, at a slight angle forward.


Now twist your spine to the left, starting with your centre and allowing your arms to follow along with your torso.


With activating your core, reach your right hand outside of your left foot. Also, rotate your head as if you are looking towards your back shoulder.


Return back to the start position and perform the same exercise with your left hand reaching out to your right foot.


Once you master the technique, try to perform this exercise at a more dynamic pace.




This is an excellent exercise for improving your spinal mobility. It further helps in stretching your back muscles and hamstrings.

3 - Wall sit

Wall sit exercise is generally done for improving knee stability. Although a very simple exercise, many people often get it wrong. You know you’re performing the exercise properly if you form a right angle at your knees with your heels on the ground and back flat against the wall.




Begin with your back against the wall and feet shoulder-width apart, keeping them about two feet from the wall.


Now in a sliding movement, engage your core muscles and slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor.


Make sure your knees are directly above your ankles and your back against the wall. Hold this position for 20-60 seconds and then slide back to the starting position.


Take a minute break and perform the exercise 3-5 times. Challenge yourself by increasing your hold time as you increase your strength.




Wall sit is an excellent exercise for building isometric strength and endurance in the glutes, quadriceps and calves. It also enhances knee stability.

Getting started with Pilates

Clinical Pilates is an amazing joint-friendly mind-body workout, which helps ease pressure on the joints. As with any exercise program, make sure you are doing it with proper form and technique.


The movements are so subtle that you won’t even realise if you are not performing the exercise correctly. Therefore, when you’re first starting out with Clinical Pilates, it is better to invest in a private session, as a single one on one session will help you get the most out of your subsequent group sessions.


So do get in touch to live a surgery-free and pain-free life.

“Body in Common is an Australian-Style Physiotherapy Studio in Bangsar, Malaysia. We provide Physiotherapy and Clinical Pilates services in our studio, as well as online Telehealth services. Feel free to get in touch and look after yourself.”

See What Clinical Pilates is Like on our Youtube Channel

Backed by Evidence. References.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arthritis in General. Updated June 1, 2016.
  2. Barbour KE, et al. Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2010–2012. MMWR. 2013;62(44): 869-873.
  3. The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States (BMUS). Prevalence Societal, and Economic Cost, Third Edition. 2014.
  4. Barbour KE, et al. Vial Signs: Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation – United States 2013-2015. MMWR 2017;66(9); 246-253.
  5. Cruz-Díaz, D., Bergamin, M., Gobbo, S., Martínez-Amat, A., & Hita-Contreras, F. (2017). Comparative effects of 12 weeks of equipment based and mat Pilates in patients with Chronic Low Back Pain on pain, function and transversus abdominis activation. A randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in medicine, 33, 72-77.
  6. LC De Oliveira, RG De Oliveira, DAA Pires Oliveira (2015) Effects of Pilates on muscle strength, postural balance and quality of life of older adults: A randomized, controlled, Clinical trial. J Phys Ther Sci 27(3): 871-876.
  7. KHALILI, M., GOLPAYEGANI, M., & SHAHRJERDI, S. (2014). The effect of eight weeks Pilates training on pain and quality of life in men with Rheumatoid arthritis.
  8. Kisacik, P., Oksuz, S., Arın, G., Akdogan, A., Dogan, O., Karabulut, E., & Unal, E. (2016). FRI0637-HPR The Effects of Clinical Pilates Exercises on Kinestesia and Position Sense in Patients with Osteoarthritis of The Knee.
  9. Oksuz, S., Ünal, E., Dizmek, P., & Ozcan, D. A. (2014). AB1175-HPR The Effects of Clinical Pilates Exercises on Kinesophobia in Women with Osteoporosis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 73(Suppl 2), 1225-1226.
  10. Oksuz, S., & Unal, E. (2017). The effect of the Clinical Pilates exercises on kinesiophobia and other symptoms related to osteoporosis: Randomised controlled trial. Complementary therapies in Clinical practice, 26, 68-72.
  11. Mendonça, T. M., Terreri, M. T., Silva, C. H., Neto, M. B., Pinto, R. M., Natour, J., & Len, C. A. (2013). Effects of Pilates exercises on health-related quality of life in individuals with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 94(11), 2093-2102.


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