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Pilates for Knee Pain

Updated: Feb 29


Do you struggle with knee pain?  Do you wonder if pilates might be right for you, or maybe you are weighing your options and considering different exercise modalities that are best when you’re also managing and hopefully reducing your knee pain.  


Let’s talk about working out and staying active, even with knee pain.  Specifically the benefits of Pilates. Whether it’s an acute injury or a long-term nagging issue then you’re in the right place! Stick around as we dive into this topic, I’m so glad you’re here and thanks for joining me.


Back in 2012 I tore the ACL ligament in my left knee and experienced first hand the difficulty of knee surgery, rehabilitation, and the whole process of dealing with acute knee pain. The rehabilitation took a grueling 9 to 12 months, so I really understand how frustrating the pain can be.  In fact, rehabilitating from knee surgery is what brought me to Pilates! 


So, why is Pilates good for knee pain?  When is it the right choice, for whom is it the right choice, and what are the other options out there? Let’s dive in!


One of the best things about Pilates for knee pain is that it gives you a full body low impact workout, which means it’s not as much wear and tear on your joints. Specifically the Pilates equipment helps to create a low impact workout that supports the lower body while also building strength and resiliency. If we compare strengthening the lower body on the pilates equipment, to standing upright and doing squats with weights for example, then the pilates lower body workout is going to be lower impact and more gentle for the knees, in most cases.


Building strength can often feel like a tug-of-war.  There’s the goal of building strength, which we know will help tone our muscles and protect our joints.  And at the same time it can be a struggle to find a form of exercise that doesn’t aggravate the issue, or possibly even make it worse. This is where I think Pilates offers a beautiful mix of strength training that is also supportive to the joints and ligaments, which makes it a really nice place to start in terms of strength training.


Next let’s discuss when in your journey is the right time to consider Pilates for knee pain. Everyone’s journey will look different, one person may be recovering from an acute injury, while another will be struggling with ongoing nagging issues that don't have a specific starting point.  It might sound obvious, but Pilates is not the same as going to your doctor.  If you haven’t first seen your doctor then you will want to start there.  Doctors can refer you to physical therapy, and it can also be helpful to get imaging done, such as x-rays to determine if there’s something more serious going on. 


Additionally, Pilates tends to be an out-of-pocket expense, while physical therapy will most likely be covered by insurance.  Most people that come to me for help with knee pain have already worked with a physical therapist, if not a few different therapists. 


One thing I like to say about physical therapy, pilates, and strength training is that Pilates is a good stepping stone between physical therapy and strength training.  In fact, pilates is 100% a type of strength training, but it tends to be lower impact than your average gym/weights type of a workout. Another thing to consider is that physical therapy is going to have a fairly narrow lens in terms of what they are able to look at and how they are able to work with your body.  With pilates you get a whole body approach that takes into consideration all of your other injuries or history, which can sometimes be contributing to the pain that’s showing up at the knee. 


If you’ve already gone to the doctor and you’ve already tried physical therapy then Pilates is a great next step. And how do you know where to find a good pilates instructor who specializes in knee pain and corrective exercise? 


Just like most forms of fitness and exercise, the instructor can make a world of difference and there are often different styles and variations within a given modality. The first thing I want to say here is that you’re probably better off participating in either private instruction or small groups, basically, you want to look for something where you’re going to get more personalized attention and feedback.  You also want to be in a situation where the exercises and programming are going to be specific to your needs. 


Let’s move on to discuss how long of a commitment you should plan on making. How will you know if it’s working?  Some things work better for different people and that’s natural, normal, and it’s perfectly okay to shop around and try out different things.  And at the same time, how do we know we’ve given something enough of a chance to see the benefits? 


Unfortunately, all too often I see clients who are impatient with their healing process, often inconsistent with their healing process (which makes it take longer), and then they can be quick to give up and try something else.  This is not a great scenario.  I encourage you to take the time to do your research and then intentionally make a commitment to yourself and your own health and healing journey. 


My favorite baseline is three months. Can you commit to a season?  Anything that you want to undertake will require a certain initiation process. This is where you’re just getting in the habit of the new thing, getting oriented, and getting in the flow. Then there’s the process of learning, and gaining proficiency and skill.  And only once you’ve passed those two points do you get to a place where you start to observe some significant changes! Sometimes this process happens faster than others, but if it ends up taking a fair amount of time, then don’t be worried.  This is normal, Rome wasn’t built in a day! 


Finally, I want to share with you a few ideas about when Pilates is not the right choice. If you’re experiencing an acute and significant injury and haven’t gone to the doctor or had imaging done, then pilates is not the right place to start.  If you are looking for a super hard, kick-your-butt workout with a no pain, no gain mentality, then pilates is probably not the right fit either.  So, essentially there are a lot of benefits to pilates for knee pain and it’s a great option for many people.  Take your time to find a good match in terms of cost, location, and teaching style and you will be well on your way to up-leveling your health and fitness goals, all while keeping your knees happy and healthy at the same time! 


Interested in additional tips for keeping your knees healthy and pain-free? Explore our blog post on You Kneed This! 3 tips for healthy knees to discover practical advice for supporting knee health and preventing injuries.


Thanks again for reading this blog! 


I offer both in-person and virtual services along with classes, DIY programs, and private instruction. A great place to start is with a complimentary consultation, no strings attached! 


Xo

Linnea


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