An experimental program is bringing together dancers and injured war veterans from Afghanistan to enhance existing rehabilitation therapies. Josee Bowman, a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, and Jessie Lee, a retired Royal Danish Ballet dancer, are helping to rehabilitate severely wounded soldiers using Pilates.

"In the start I didn’t really want to do the Pilates, because I thought it was too girly, and I didn’t have anything in common with these two ballerinas," said Lance Cpl. Christian Richardson. In 2009, while out on his last patrol, the 25-year-old Danish soldier was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, had both legs amputated above the knee, and now wears prostheses.

"But after the first session, where I was sweating like a pig from start to end, I changed my mind about it. The discipline, and especially the focus dancers have on their work—it’s quite similar to the environment in the army, so I quickly felt quite at home," Richardson told the Wall Street Journal.

Elizabeth Larkam, a pilates instructor, developed Polytrauma Pilates for the soldiers. Larkam has mentored therapists working with military veterans at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center, and assisted the Israeli army with a new rehabilitation program.

Polytrauma Pilates focuses on smaller, oft-neglected muscles, emphasizing the training of deep abdominal, spinal and pelvic muscles, and making myofascial connections with the limbs in order to build a strong core and improve balance.

At Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, the soldiers receive 4 hours of physical therapy a day. After their wounds have healed, the rehabilitation process begins by retraining the thigh and gluteal muscles, improving hip flexibility, and making and fitting appropriate prosthetics. While the hospital rehab focuses on the crucial first steps, Pilates looks to improve the quality of movement, says Finn Warburg, MD, chief of the hospital’s orthopedic surgery trauma unit.

When the soldiers added the weekly, 2-hour Pilates sessions to their routine, Warburg saw fast improvements in their overall strength, as well in their posture, stability and gait.

The program, which has no formal name, has helped rehabilitate five soldiers so far. In the coming years, provided the funding is available, they hope to expand and build relationships with the Polytrauma Pilates programs under way in San Diego and Tel Aviv.

[Source: Wall Street Journal]