Pilates can be a great low impact exercise choice for breast cancer surviors. This is an interesting article on breast cancer and exercise. You may have had the removal of some cancer or a complete breast reconstruction, either way Pilates can aid you in your recovery. Pilates and breast cancer....something to consider.
The following article is written by Naomi Aaronson an OT with a passion for educating and helping breast cancer survivors.
By Naomi Aaronson MA OTR/L CHT
By now, you’ve probably heard about Pilates or you may even know someone who is doing it. But what exactly is it?
Pilates is a mind/body exercise technique that stretches and lengthens the body with
flowing movements. It is unique because many of the exercises are performed in a
gravity- reduced position. This means the exercises are done while laying face up
(supine), face down (prone), or on your side. This allows the body to be centered and
the spine aligned while putting less stress on the neck and back.
Joseph Pilates created Pilates exercises in the 1920s based on the concept of
“controllogy,” which aims to coordinate mind, body, and spirit. Mr. Pilates was
influenced by both yoga and Tai chi. Consequently, many of the exercises done in
Pilates may look similar to those you have done in a yoga class. Mr. Pilates believed that it was the quality, not the quantity, of the movement that was important. As a result, Pilates emphasizes proper breathing techniques and body mechanics along with control and precision.
Mr. Pilates believed that the spine was a true indicator of one’s health, so he had every Pilates exercise focus on the abdominal area. He also developed exercises that work to enhance shoulder mobility and strength by working the muscles in the back. (This also facilitates good posture.) Because Pilates techniques have been broadened and modified by physical therapists, the Pilates practiced today is similar to but not precisely the same as that invented by Mr. Pilates 85 years ago.
Pilates and Breast Cancer
Women undergoing breast cancer treatment often find themselves facing overwhelming fatigue, especially while undergoing chemotherapy. Pilates can offer a gentle, low-impact introduction or re-introduction to exercise that can help women gain or regain strength and endurance. Pilates can also help you to regain a more erect posture because the exercises not only work the postural muscles in the trunk and back but also require you to focus on how your body feels when it is correctly aligned. Doing Pilates properly requires intense concentration—but that concentration can pay off.
Women who have lymph node surgery are at higher risk of developing lymphedema.
Women at risk for lymphedema can exercise, but they have to be careful and start using light weights slowly, and then gradually increase the resistance. Since many Pilates exercises are abdominal exercises, they are a natural fit for those concerned about lymphedema. In addition, abdominal exercises can enhance the pumping to the thoracic duct (the main area of lymphatic return for the left side of the neck, left arm, trunk and legs), which can help the flow of lymphatic fluid. The emphasis upon deep breathing and muscular contractions during Pilates may also help propel lymphatic fluid out of the abdominal area and clear the trunk and arm. Pilates can be performed on special equipment, such as reformers and cadillacs, or on mats. It is wise to work with a specialist who has experience with this equipment. (The Pilates classes that use this equipment are often much more expensive than the mat classes.)
Things to Consider Before Starting Pilates:
1) Always obtain your doctor’s permission before participating in Pilates or any exercise program
2) Have a baseline DEXA scan ( bone density test) to see if you have bone thinning
or low bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis). If you do, there are certain
Pilates' exercises that involve bending and twisting of the spine that you should
not do or that should be modified for you.
3) Work with a Pilates practitioner that has experience with the special issues faced
by breast cancer survivors. It is important to work with someone who can adapt
or change the exercises to meet your special needs.
4) There is no regulation of Pilates instructors. You may want to get a referral from
an occupational therapist or physical therapist for a reputable practitioner.
5) Take individual sessions before joining a group Pilates session. It is important to
learn the basics such as neutral spine, breathing, and control before embarking
on group sessions where you may not get as much supervision.
6) Nothing should be painful. Speak up so that the exercise can be modified to suit
7) Release unwanted tension from the body prior to starting each session. Pilates
should be relaxing, yet you should feel energized, alert, and stronger after
8) Pilates is hard as it takes mental focus, concentration, and physical work to do it
correctly. Don’t give up as the benefits will become apparent!
Breast Cancer Survivors Guide to Physical Restoration - Using Pilates Method Principles
Dr. Suzanne Martin Pilates Therapeutics www.pilatestherapeutics.com.