Alleviate Neck Pain and Tension with Pilates

If you have chronic neck pain and tension, did you know that Pilates can help?  For those of you  who have tried Pilates and felt more neck pain after the class than you did before the class….read on!!

Pilates exercises can do wonders to alleviate your chronic pain, but you need to learn what to do and what NOT to do to make your Pilates practice neck-friendly for your neck. If you can, ideally, you’ll run run to your nearest fully equipped Pilates studio to benefit from the myriad of exercises that will help strengthen the core, the abdominal muscles and the muscles around the shoulder girdle to make that neck tension and pain a thing of the past.  But if you’re at home doing mat work — especially mat work with Pilates videos or Pilates podcasts — then you need to pay attention to the next bit of advice!

1.  Listen to your neck!  If your neck hurts during ab exercises, particularly those which require you to lift your head and shoulders off the mat, then you should rest your head as necessary.  Sure, the stronger your abs are, the more relief you’ll feel because the higher you can curl your shoulders off the mat, the more the shoulders support the weight of the head.  When you can’t curl up to the base of the scapula, then the head ends up behind the shoulders supported only by the neck muscles — kind of like a stick holding a 10 to 15 lb ball on one end.  Your neck muscles will strengthen (as will your abdominal muscles, of course) so to protect your neck while building strength, try propping up your head so that you don’t have as far to go when you lift your head off the mat.  During Hundreds or any other exercise that requires more endurance, rest your head as necessary.  For inverted or rolling exercises, be careful to keep the weight between the scapula so that the body’s weight is absorbed by the shoulders and does not affect the neck.  And don’t exacerbate neck tension or pain by turning your head to watch the video — especially in inversions!  Watch the video first so that you can implement the cues without turning your head.

2.  Strengthen your shoulder girdle.  Why the shoulder girdle, you ask?  Well, in the shoulder region there is a very large bundle of nerves known as the brachial plexus.  If poor biomechanics cause any one of these to be impinged, then neck and shoulder pain could result.  Or you could have a rotator cuff impingement causing the pain, or damage to any of the number of muscles, tendons and ligaments around the shoulder and the neck.  Or your sleeping position could be the root cause of it all!  Our shoulder joint is fabulous in that it allows for a wide range of motion, but this makes for a very large margin for error.  Improper biomechanics over time can wreak havoc on the shoulder and the neck, causing pain.  …And why does the core need strengthening if it’s the neck and shoulder that seems to be the problem?

3.  Strengthen your core!  Well, that is why you want to do Pilates, right?  Lack of core strength can lead to postural problems, specifically a rounded back and a forward head.  This posture in particular creates a significant imbalance in the muscles of the shoulder and neck.  In a Pilates studio, care can be given to retraining proper biomechanics while strengthening the core.  Specifically, Pilates exercises on the Cadillac and Pilates exercises on the Reformer can both strengthen the stabilizing muscles and restore the necessary length to diminish activation of any muscles that are tight and overworking.  If you’re doing Pilates at home, pay attention to all the starting positions for the exercises, especially seated exercises such as Spine Twist and Spine Stretch Forward.  These exercises provide you the opportunity to reinforce proper alignment that you can (hopefully!) carry with you throughout your day.  If you regularly visit a Pilates studio, ask your instructor to give some at-home Pilates exercises to do so that you don’t derail what you’ve learned.

4.  Know when to stop and know when to seek medical attention!  If you consider yourself a very body aware individual, then you probably know the difference between muscle pain that is “fatigue” and muscle pain that is “strain”.  No one can make this judgment call but you, so you need to rest and stop an exercise if you feel the pain is harmful.  There is no “rule” regarding when to seek medical attention as everyone’s tolerance for pain and estimation of pain is different.  But neck pain and tension severely impacts quality of life – so if you have been “tolerating” your neck pain for a while now, you should consider getting it checked out.  Also, some individuals should NOT be performing inverted exercises such as Roll Over or Jack Knife, so it may be best to avoid these if they cause discomfort until you have your specific condition evaluated.

So, don’t let neck and shoulder pain keep you from your favorite Pilates class!  Take the time to learn what you should not do, but more importantly to learn what you should do so that you can be pain-free in no time.  For some easy, accessible Pilates exercises just for the shoulder girdle, visit (launching October 15!) and find the Pink Ribbon Pilates workouts, or click here for a great article with some accompanying exercises.


October 13, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Pilates Posts.

One Comment

  1. tripplex5663 replied:

    Excellent post. I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work. Loveland CO Chiropractor Loveland CO Chiropractic

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