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Pilates injuries are on the rise, body says, amid calls for regulation

A Pilates body says it has received reports of serious injuries occurring. (Supplied)

Jae* injured her shoulder when she did an unfamiliar move in a reformer Pilates class in Central Victoria. 

She has been doing Pilates for seven years and is an instructor in Melbourne.

She had never done a move with a jump board before.

"I did my first jump and I slid off and fell off the reformer," Jae said.

"I scraped my arm and injured my shoulder.

"I was in shock.

"I wasn't the only one who fell — there were a few clients who expressed concerns to the instructor that they couldn't stabilise themselves."

Jae does not want to use her real name for privacy reasons, but is concerned studios are letting instructors with little experience teach classes.

"You are trusting your body in someone's hands," she said.

"Anyone can open a studio and you do not know if the instructors are properly qualified.

"People can do a weekend course and become an instructor, and that's really concerning."

Stacey Smith says all instructors should have a minimum number of hours under their belt and be properly accredited. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

'Such a grey area'

According to AusPlay – an ongoing national telephone survey by the Australian Sports Commission – Pilates is the fifth most common exercise for adults. 

AusPlay found the number of adults doing Pilates rose by 145,037 between 2021 and 2022.

Pilates teacher and studio owner Stacey Smith is worried the number of studios opening up in regional Victoria could mean a rise in underqualified teachers.

"Anyone with a certificate 3 in fitness can come in and teach," she said.

"I disagree with that — I think you need to do a certificate 4, minimum, in reformer and mat Pilates.

"It's such a grey area — you get injured clients, pre and postnatal clients.

"You need to know a bit about anatomy, physiology, the way the reformer works and what modifications you can give."

Pilates instructors say regulation could prevent clients from getting hurt. (ABC News: Chris Taylor)

Calls for regulation

Pilates is an unregulated industry, meaning anyone can open up a studio and teach classes. 

For an instructor to be recognised by a professional association such as the Pilates Australasian Alliance (PAA) or Australian Pilates Method Association, you must hold a qualification from an organisation that is nationally recognised organisation.

The PAA is advocating for regulations to be introduced to mandate minimum training and qualifications before people can teach Pilates.

Robyn Rix says all PAA members are qualified and experienced. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

"There is a risk of injury in Pilates," president Robyn Rix said.

"We are working with a moving platform and springs, so a clear understanding of the risks and how to mitigate them has to be covered through comprehensive training.

"Would you go to a hairdresser who's done a weekend course? You're putting your whole body in someone's hands."

Ms Rix is concerned the lack of regulation and mandatory training is enabling dangerous moves to be performed.

Pilates can help people with injuries to build strength and mobility. (Supplied: University of Canberra)

Broken bones reported

The PAA has received two reports of people breaking bones at reformer Pilates classes.

"Over the last year I've heard so many reports of injuries in Pilates studios," Ms Rix said.

"Someone broke their arm and someone broke their leg and actually needed surgery on their leg."

The alliance recommends people check the Pilates studio uses instructors who have either done government accredited training or are a member of the organisation before going to a class.

"We expect courses to be at least 500 hours," Ms Rix said.

"We also check they're up to date with insurance and first aid.

"We are calling for [the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency — AHPRA] or the Australian Physiotherapy Association to set standards for Pilates training for physiotherapists.

"We are even seeing osteopaths and chiropractors teaching Pilates with minimal training." 

An AHPRA spokesperson said Pilates was not a registered health profession and decisions about which health professions were regulated were the federal health minister's to make.

"Practitioners registered in the professions of physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic have particular knowledge and skills in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, using a range of therapies that may include exercise-based intervention," the spokesperson said.

Stacey Smith discovered Pilates as part of her rehabilitation after a serious back injury. (Supplied)

'Fell in love with it'

In Bendigo there are more places to practice Pilates than there are pizza shops, but that was not the case when Ms Smith opened her Pilates studio two years ago.

She first tried the form of exercise eight years ago after a life-altering injury. 

"I fell at an indoor trampoline centre and fractured my vertebrae," Ms Smith said.

"I was two millimetres away from becoming paraplegic."  

After spinal surgery she was in a brace for seven months and had to learn how to walk again.

"Before the injury, I was doing marathons and high-intensity exercise," Ms Smith said.

"The physio got me on a reformer machine and I remember after the first time thinking, 'This is amazing.'

"I fell in love with it." 

Health professionals say one of the reasons reformer Pilates is rising in popularity is because it is low-impact.

Physiotherapists often recommend it for people recovering from an injury.

Di Parker says Pilates has made her much fitter. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

'Fitter and stronger'

Di Parker, 72, started reformer classes a year ago when her gym started offering them. 

She hadn't done reformer Pilates before, but had done mat Pilates years ago.

"When I first saw it I thought, 'Oh that looks easy, I can do that,'" Ms Parker said.

"But some of it is really challenging — I thought I was pretty fit, I felt fit and I do a lot of physical exercise.

"But this has taken me to a whole new level."

Ms Parker now goes to four classes a week.

Most of the people in her classes are female. 

"I hope it's not just a fad," she said.

"I feel fitter and stronger, my balance is also better."

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