Neck Pain and shoulder tension.

As a Pilates instructor, this can be quite a tricky issue to address. Many people come to Pilates hoping to reduce or disperse of their neck pain by improving their core strength. It’s an excellent and overall sound idea. The problem is that many of the Classic Pilates exercises can be difficult to do successfully if your neck doesn’t work efficiently. In particular, exercises such as the 100 and the stomach series require flexibility in the neck and upper back, again a good reason to start pilates with private classes. If you have spinal flexibility, (including the vertebra in the neck) you will work the abdominals; if you don’t, your neck does the work. Understanding common patterns related to neck tension can greatly improve your experience in a Pilates class, especially if you know you have a stiff or fragile neck.

People who experience neck pain in Pilates generally have three common traits. The first is weak upper abdominal muscles, which directly forces extra work in the neck. Imagine the ribcage as a large cylinder which is situated (balanced) between the neck and the lower back and abdoninales. From above, we have the neck and shoulder muscles. From below, the upper abdominal muscles. If the upper abdominals are weak, then the neck is forced to work harder to keep the ribcage in line. If the upper abdominals, which wrap around the lower half of the ribcage from the sides of the body, are effectively engaged, it gives the neck a tremendous amount of relief.

The second pattern common to neck suffer-ers is poor respiration, the failure to exhale properly. Many of the muscles of the neck and throat assist in breathing. During a full inhale, these secondary respirator muscles lift the collarbones and the topmost ribs up and out, so the lungs can expand and take in air. During a full exhale, these same neck muscles should relax, lowering the chest back down and decreasing the volume of the lungs as air rushes out. If the neck is already tight from trying to hold the ribcage in alignment (due to weak upper abdominals), then it never fully releases and completes the motion of exhale.

The third communality of neck pain is a head that is pulled forward – meaning that the neck is out of alignment and the chin juts out. This creates muscles in the front of the neck that are short and overworked, and muscles in the back of the neck that are long and strained. It’s a posture that we are all accustomed to due to the visual culture. We stare at the traffic in front of us as we drive, we lean over our desk reading or writing, we even lean forward to listen to a friend. One of the first things people often do to relax is to close their eyes.

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