Pilates instructor Marilyn Miller has been living with arthritis for the last 17 years. She developed arthritis in the spine following her career as a professional ballet dancer. Rather than undergo surgery, Miller manages her arthritis through Pilates, yoga, massage, staying physically active, and the occasional over-the-counter pain reliever. This allows her to travel and see the world when she’s not teaching at her studio, Pilates on Hudson in Peekskill, New York.
“The goal of Pilates is to strengthen the muscles around the areas that are arthritic,” said Miller, who instructs many people living with different types of arthritis and chronic pain conditions. “Working and strengthening the muscles through a regular Pilates program will take the load and burden off the hips, knees, and feet and produce a positive effect.”
When her clients travel, she definitely encourages them to stay active and avoid sitting for hours. Miller recommends these exercises, which are easy to do in planes, trains, or automobiles.
While sitting, squeeze your knees together by using your inner thigh muscles. You can squeeze your knees together using a pillow, book, or yoga block. This contracts the powerhouse muscles, which are the center of strength in the body and are comprised of the deep abdominal, pelvic, diaphragm, and gluteals (buttocks) muscles. Hold each squeeze for about five seconds and repeat about 20 times.
Take your shoes off and turn your feet slightly inward. Press the ball of the foot down on the floor and out to the side. The little toe should face the floor. This movement mimics the action of a sea turtle digging a nest. Reverse the movement and push the sand back over the nest. Do about 10 of these movements.
Another foot exercise is called the inch worm. Put the ball of the foot flat on the floor. Draw the heel of the foot closer to the ball of the foot without moving the ball. Then put the heel down and release the arch of the foot and inch out the ball. Do 10 forward and 10 backward, moving about 5 to 6 inches in total. These foot exercises strengthen the arches and support the lower leg muscles, which will help with any arthritic issues in the feet and ankles.
In your seat, keeping your spine upright and shoulders rolling back, draw your chin into the back of your throat, putting the back of your head against the head rest. Properly aligning the spine will alleviate pain and discomfort in the neck and strengthen the deeper cervical spine muscles. The stronger they are, the more they will support the weight of the head. Hold the position in place as long as you can.
Upper back movements
Place your arms on your armrest and press them down, pulling your chest forward. Be sure to focus on the pull coming from the mid-upper back, not the neck or chest. This exercise works to strengthen your upper back and spinal muscles, which helps combat stooped posture that can cause problems as you get older. Repeat 10 times.
Want to learn more about traveling with a pain condition? Read “Mapping Out Your Next Trip,” “Limited Mobility Traveling Tips: Traveling With Arthritis,” and “Taking a Cruise With Mobility Issues.”