Pilates and Multiple Sclerosis….. the continuing story……… Karl Fleming

Greetings again out there in Blog land, I am back to update you on my research endeavours over the last few months. The last time I spoke to you, I was at the beginning of the recruitment phase for a home-based Pilates trial among persons with multiple sclerosis (PwMS), and thankfully this is almost coming to an end. Why is this important? Figures suggest that approximately 9,000 people are living with MS in Ireland. Symptoms and severity vary between individuals, affect the body physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Mood impairments, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, are highly prevalent among PwMS. Physical activity is a key in symptom management, and traditional forms of aerobic and resistance exercise have positively affected these psychological symptoms. Less is known about the effects of non-traditional modes of exercise like Pilates, which is easily learned, requires little or no equipment and little space, and can efficiently improve a plethora of health-related features. Pilates research has demonstrated improvements in characteristics such as flexibility, abdominal endurance (Sekendiz et al. 2007), balance (Rodrigues et al. 2010), posture and blood pressure (Venugopal and Anbalagan 2013), although much of this research was carried out on a healthy population. However, to date no randomized controlled trial has quantified the effects of Pilates on mood outcomes among PwMS. Thus, the aim of this research was to quantify and compare the effects of 8-weeks of an immediate start home-based Pilates, compared to a delayed-start control condition, on mood among PwMS.

Participants were recruited in collaboration with MS Ireland. Potential participants who met all inclusion criteria (adults (>18 years), with a confirmed physician diagnosis of MS, who are free from any other significant or psychiatric condition) and provided informed consent completed baseline testing, comprising an electronic battery of questionnaires currently approved for use in multiple ongoing studies among PwMS.

Based on previous evidence, power analysis was conducted with G*Power, indicating that a sample size of 56, yielding 28 per condition, would provide >80% to detect a moderate-to-large effect of Pilates. To account for potential 20% attrition among PwMS, a total of 68 participants were to be recruited through rolling recruitment.

Random allocation to either group was carried out following baseline testing. The Home-based Pilates group performed two weekly classes in their own home, supported by a DVD developed and previously implemented by the lead researcher. Each Pilates class took approximately one hour and comprised of beginner’s level exercise. Adherence to the program was documented via self-report exercise logs, supplemented by a weekly telephone call to the home-based group. The wait-list control group maintained their regular activity levels and received the home-based DVD for their own use following their initial eight weeks of the intervention, ensuring that no participant has been deprived of an opportunity to benefit from home-based Pilates. This is the largest RCT home-based Pilates trial examining mental health among PwMS, and at the time of writing, 54 participants have completed the home-based trial, with two participants at different stages of the intervention. The long and arduous process of data analysis awaits……….and the final telling of my research story.

Karl Fleming is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Karl is a tutor for the National Council for Exercise and Fitness (NCEF) and his current research interests focus on the effects of exercise, namely Pilates on mental health outcomes among persons with multiple sclerosis.  You can contact Karl via email at Karl.Fleming@ul.ie.   Karl Flemming


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