The Benefits of Pilates for Stroke Rehabilitation – a National Stroke Week special feature

Become a FAST Hero for National Stroke Week

National Stroke Week takes place from 31 August to 6 September 2020. This year the Stroke Foundation[1] is encouraging us all to celebrate everyday Australians who know and can recognise the signs of stroke. They are F.A.S.T. Heroes! More about F.A.S.T Heroes later on.

If I asked you to name the biggest killer of women in Australia, you might say cancer. Surprisingly, it is cardiovascular disease, which includes strokes, that is the leading cause of illness and death among Australian women. In 2015, 17,900 women had a stroke—about 50 per day.[2] It is sobering to realise that this figure has gone up and that in 2017, someone in Australia has a stroke every nine minutes creating 475,160 stroke survivors.[3]

What is a stroke?

Stroke attacks the brain – our most vital organ. A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is cut off by a clot suddenly blocking an artery (ischaemic stroke) or by a burst artery leaking blood into the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). When blood supply to the brain is blocked brain cells begin to die at a rate of 1.9 million a minute.

Every stroke is different depending on where in the brain it strikes and how severe it is. This means that a stroke can impact on a range of functions including how you move your body, receive sensory messages (such as touch, sight or smell), use language and think. The road to recovery can be long and supervised rehabilitation is critical.

Pilates for Stroke Rehabilitation – What is the evidence?

Pilates has the potential to benefit stroke patients and can be an ideal method of exercise for post stroke rehabilitation. The research on the benefits of Pilates for recovering stroke patients, some is referenced in this article, indicates that Pilates is a valuable rehabilitation tool for stroke patients, helping to improve their quality of life and independence.[4]

Stroke survivors often have mobility, strength and balance problems leading to a more sedentary lifestyle, increasing their risk of falls and further strokes. Stroke patients may experience loss of strength and muscle length leading to posture and movement problems. So, you can see that the strong link Joseph Pilates made between mind control over muscle in his “Contrology” method has clear application in post stroke recovery. Researchers believe that the consistent and repetitive focus on neutral postures, centering and alignment of the Pilates method, can help stroke patients regain mobility and improve balance.[5]

A study on the effects of an 8-week program of Pilates exercise on gait in the rehabilitation in poststroke patients found that Pilates exercise had a positive influence on improving the gait ability of poststroke patients with various levels of physical disability by adjusting the intensity of exercise.[6]

Another study found that one of the most significant benefits of Pilates rehabilitation exercises, particularly for patients who cannot participate in normal exercises due to the impacts of a stroke, is the use of supportive equipment such as Reformers, Cadillacs, Wunda Chairs, Magic Circles, and various types of Foot Correctors, Sandbags, in addition to mat-based exercises.[7]

There is currently research underway on the link between Pilates and the quality of life in chronic stroke patients. This research will provide data that can be used to develop exercise programs to increase the rehabilitative effects for stroke patients.[8] Keep an eye out for that one.

Despite the various positive effects, Pilates is still not widely used for the rehabilitation of stroke patients. Clearly, we have some work to do here. Perhaps collaborating with health professionals specialising in stroke rehabilitation or deepening our understanding of how we, as Pilates professionals, can help to reduce the impact of this devastating disease.

F.A.S.T and why it is important to you and your Pilates practice

F.A.S.T is a quick and easy way to remember the common signs of stroke by asking these simple questions:

Face – Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?

Arms – Can they lift both arms?

Speech – Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time – Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.

The focus for National Stroke Week 2020 is to increased awareness of F.A.S.T. Heroes and how they can save lives, simply by knowing and recognising the F.A.S.T. signs of stroke and calling an ambulance immediately.

To encourage you to get involved, the Stroke Foundation has put together resources to make you more stroke aware and to encourage you to host an event. For a range of downloadable resources, social media pack or Stroke Safe speakers go to

If you would like to learn more about stroke rehabilitation the Stroke Foundation has great resources for health professionals at InformMe ( This dedicated website for health professionals is all about improving stroke care including an extensive section on rehabilitation. Have you thought about how you can include stroke prevention and rehabilitation in your Pilates practice?

If there is someone in your life who has suffered from stroke – a client or a friend or family member –  have a look at the EnableMe website ( EnableMe has an amazing array of information to help with stroke recovery and with life after stroke. There are fact sheets, podcasts, videos and support from people who have been through stroke and stroke recovery.

Now I know that after you have looked at the website, you will be surprised to find only one small reference to Pilates at the bottom of one fact sheet! The solution might be to get involved and spread the word about the therapeutic benefits of Pilates for stroke prevention and rehabilitation. Your first step – become a F.A.S.T. Hero!

by Ditta Zizi, PAA Mat Member



[1] The Stroke Foundation is a national charity that partners with the community to prevent, treat and beat stroke. The Foundation does this through raising awareness, facilitating research and supporting stroke survivors.

[2] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Cardiovascular disease in Australian women—a snapshot of national statistics. Cat. no. CDK 10. Canberra: AIHW.

[3] Deloitte Access Economics. No postcode untouched, Stroke in Australia 2017.


[5] Eimear Cronin, David Roberts, Kenneth Monaghan. Neuropilates to Improve Motor Function in Stroke: Past, present, and Future. Ortho Res Online J. 7(1). OPROJ.000651.2020.