Pilates-based mat exercises show promise as a way of helping people with multiple sclerosis (MS) improve both balance and stability. Impaired balance and loss of confidence with walking are common consequences of MS. Core stability training would seem a good candidate for complementary therapy, but till now, little scientific evidence has supported its effectiveness.

Researchers from several hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales conducted a multicenter series of case studies to evaluate the influence of Pilates-based mat exercises on balance and gait in ambulant people with MS.

Working with eight subjects, researchers collected data from a variety of timed-walk, functional-reach and balance tests as well as from scales on walking, balance confidence and other functional activities (scale ratings were based on self-reported information). Baseline assessments were used instead of a control group. To establish starting measures, investigators met with participants once a week for 4 weeks to administer tests and gather self-reports. Participants did up to 10 Pilates-based mat exercises with a therapist during two 30-minute sessions per week for 8 weeks (a total of 16 sessions), plus a 15-minute individually designed daily home routine. During the 8-week intervention, data was collected once per week. After 8 weeks, the intervention and home programs stopped. Researchers continued to assess participants once a week for an additional 4 weeks.

In evaluating the data, researchers found improvements in both balance and stability for five of the eight subjects. As a group, participants showed significant improvements in the timed-walk, self-reported walking scale and functional-reach tests. However, no improvements continued after the intervention stopped, and toward the end of the 4-week follow-up, some subjects experienced deterioration.

Jennifer Freeman, lead study author and reader in physiotherapy and rehabilitation at Plymouth University, England, said, “This study provides preliminary evidence that Pilates-based exercise can benefit people with MS who have difficulties with balance and walking. However, not everyone improves, and this study does not indicate who is most likely to benefit. We have therefore been funded by the MS Trust to undertake a multicentered, double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 100 people with MS. Our aim is to provide more robust evidence regarding the effectiveness of Pilates-based exercise, and to identify who is most likely to benefit.”

The current study appeared in Multiple Sclerosis (2010; doi: 10.1177/1352458510378126). To learn more about the exercises used in this study, go to www.mstrust.org.uk/information/exercises/.