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Understanding Bursitis: A Guide for Pilates Teachers


Comparative anatomy of hip bursitis, showcasing normal and affected bursae
Contrast of healthy and inflamed trochanteric bursae in the hip

As Pilates teachers, we are often the first to hear about our clients' aches and pains, including conditions like bursitis. Understanding what bursitis is, and knowing how to adapt our sessions accordingly, can make a significant difference in our clients' health and comfort. Here's what you need to know.


What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. This condition can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness, making movement challenging and uncomfortable. Bursitis most commonly affects the shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee, but any joint can be affected.


Exercising with Bursitis: General Guidelines

When a client reports bursitis, the first step is always to advise them to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan, which may include rest, medication, or in some cases, surgery. Once they've been cleared for exercise, Pilates can play a crucial role in their recovery and pain management.

General guidelines for exercising with bursitis include:

  • Avoiding Aggravating Activities: Any movement that increases pain or discomfort should be avoided. This often means modifying or eliminating high-impact activities or those that involve repetitive motion of the affected joint.

  • Focus on Gentle Strengthening: Gentle strengthening exercises can help support the muscles around the joint, providing better stability and potentially reducing irritation of the bursae.

  • Incorporate Flexibility and Range of Motion Exercises: Maintaining or improving flexibility and range of motion can help reduce stress on the joints and bursae.


Pilates and Bursitis: Adaptations and Considerations

Pilates, with its focus on controlled movement, posture, and flexibility, can be particularly beneficial for clients with bursitis. However, certain modifications may be necessary to ensure the exercises are safe and effective:

  1. Avoid Pressure on the Affected Joint: For hip bursitis, for instance, avoid exercises that put direct pressure on the hip, such as certain types of leg lifts. For shoulder bursitis, modify exercises that involve overhead motions or place strain on the shoulders.

  2. Modify Positions: Use props and modifications to adjust the standard positions. For example, if a client has knee bursitis, a rolled-up towel under the knee can help during exercises that involve lying down.

  3. Focus on Core Strength: Strengthening the core can help improve overall stability, which in turn can reduce stress on the bursae. Pilates is particularly effective in this regard.

  4. Emphasise Low-Impact, Smooth Movements: Pilates exercises should be performed smoothly and without jerking, especially for clients with bursitis. This can help minimise inflammation.

  5. Encourage Mindful Movement: Teach clients to be mindful of their body's signals and to avoid pushing through pain.

  6. Consult with Health Professionals: Collaborate with your client's healthcare provider to ensure that your Pilates programme complements their overall treatment plan.

Pilates & Bursitis: Finally

By understanding bursitis and adapting Pilates sessions to meet the needs of clients suffering from this condition, Pilates teachers can provide valuable support in their recovery and management of symptoms. Remember, each client's experience with bursitis is unique, and their Pilates programme should be just as personalised.

As always, the safety and wellbeing of your clients should be your top priority. With the right knowledge and approach, you can help them navigate their journey to recovery through Pilates.

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