Pilates practice may help people with ankylosing spondylitis to improve functional capacity, reports a study published in Rheumatology International (2012; 32 (7), 2093-99; doi: 10.1007/s00296-011-1932-9).

AS is a chronic, inflammatory disorder characterized by pain and stiffness of the back and the sacroiliac joints, but it can also affect peripheral joints like the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. Over time, breathing becomes increasingly difficult, and affected joints eventually lose all mobility.

Researchers from Uludag University in Bursa, Turkey, wanted to evaluate the benefits of the Pilates method for people with AS because of the emphasis that Pilates places on spinal mobility and stability, core strengthening, flexibility and conscious breathing.

Investigators randomly assigned 55 men and women with AS into either a Pilates exercise program (1 hour per week, three times a week for 12 weeks) or a control group (standard treatment). Assessments of functional capacity, disease activity, chest expansion and quality of life were taken before the intervention, at 12 weeks and at 24 weeks. Fifty-three parti­cipants completed the study.

At the 24-week mark, data analysis showed significant improvement in functional capacity among Pilates participants. An improvement in disease activity was apparent at 12 weeks but not at 24 weeks. Researchers believed that the positive effect of Pilates on pain and fatigue may have caused the improvement, but they said participants needed to keep doing the exercises regularly for benefits to continue.

An improvement in chest expansion seen at 12 weeks was no longer evident at 24 weeks. Study authors suggested that Pilates could be an effective and safe method for improving physical capacity in AS patients and noted that this was the first clinical study to investigate the role of the Pilates method in AS treatment. More research is needed.