Students Staff

23 October 2012

Can modified Pilates help hidden problem?

Academics at Essex and health professionals at Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust are joining forces to conduct a special study into ways of improving a distressing condition which affects millions of women.

Although urinary incontinence affects more than five million women in the UK, it is still shrouded in social stigma, with many women suffering in silence despite it affecting their quality of life.

Treatment for this condition usually involves pelvic floor exercises and, more recently, modified Pilates has been suggested as an additional method of improving symptoms of sufferers. However, the effectiveness of this approach is purely anecdotal.

The aim of this initial 33-month pilot study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is to begin gathering firm evidence to back up claims that modified Pilates − a mind-body technique involving slow, controlled movements focusing on posture and breathing − can be effective in helping patients suffering from urinary incontinence. The findings will then help design a larger trial.

As Professor Jo Jackson, Head of the University’s School of Health and Human Sciences, explained: “Modified Pilates appears to make a difference to patients but we now need robust evidence to back up these claims.”

Dr Louise Marsland, Research Adviser for the NIHR Research Design Service for the East of England, said: “Due to the stigma surrounding this condition the research had been designed with great sensitivity. For many women of all ages this condition can be hugely debilitating. It influences all aspects of their daily lives, from going shopping to using public transport, and can have a major emotional impact on self-esteem and relationships.”

Based in the Physiotherapy Department at Colchester General Hospital, the study will involve 100 women who suffer from urinary incontinence receiving pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle advice, with half also attending modified Pilates classes for six weeks. Both groups will then be assessed to see if their symptoms and quality of life have improved.

Leading the project will be senior physiotherapist Samantha Head, who was among the first cohort of physiotherapists to graduate from the University of Essex in 2006.

As Samantha explained, Colchester General Hospital is currently using modified Pilates to treat some patients with urinary incontinence and has seen improvements in symptoms and quality of life with these patients. She added: “It is so often the impact of the patient’s symptoms which are so distressing, affecting women’s quality of life, self-esteem and social interaction. Urinary incontinence may also become a barrier to regular physical and fitness activities and this withdrawal may threaten women’s general health and well being.”

The research was awarded funding under the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme.

If you are interested in taking part in the study please contact the research team on 07508 698341 or e-mail:


Note to editors
For information, please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or e-mail

About the NIHR
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (

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