Pilates for neck pain

Tessa Lees 0 comment(s)

The neck is becoming an increasing common source of pain and discomfort for many people in the general population. Both acute and chronic neck pain can be distressing and can interfere with many activities of daily life. In the majority of cases, neck pain should resolve on its own with time. In some cases, however, we can attribute our ongoing pain to changes in our posture and the way we carry ourselves in daily life.

The ever-growing postural demands of daily living can often contribute to a significant proportion of the neck pain we experience. Our repeated postures such as those we adopt when sitting in cars, in offices or working on computers, can often lead to the discomfort experienced by everyday people. Alternatively, we can also experience neck pain secondary to slips, trips or falls or following traumatic injuries like road traffic accidents, which can often result in a whiplash injury to the neck. 

Common symptoms associated with both acute and chronic neck pain include; pain localised to the back of the neck and upper shoulders, stiffness and difficulty moving the neck freely as well as things such as tension-type headaches or a feeling that the head has become very heavy and difficult to hold upright.  

Pilates instructor performd 

In people with both traumatic and atraumatic neck pain, we can often identify a deficiency in strength of important muscles that act to support and hold your head in a position of low stress. When these muscles become underactive, we begin to overload alternative muscles, which is when we can begin to experience neck and shoulder pain. When we hold good head and neck posture, we reduce the strain on the joints and muscles of the neck, reducing our potential to experience pain or discomfort.

If we were to look at a drawing of the head and neck in a textbook, we identify the natural curves of our upper spine. This is what we refer to as the neutral position for the cervical spine (neck). We have specific muscles deep within our neck, which are responsible for maintaining this neural, low stress position. These muscles are called our deep neck flexors, and sit beneath our chin on the front side of the neck.

In people with neck pain, both acute and chronic, we often see these deep neck flexors become weak, and underactive. This means that their ability to support and move the head is reduced, which in itself can lead to pain and discomfort. People can often adopt a ‘poking chin’ posture, where we no longer hold the head and neck in the position of low stress. This posture is often related to weakness in these deep neck flexors, as they are not drawing the head into an optimal position.

Pilates can be an excellent form of strengthening for these deep neck flexors, as we incorporate correct positioning and activation for these muscles through many different exercises and positions.

By addressing the deep neck flexors, and encouraging these muscles to become more active, we are able to increase support around the head and neck, improve posture and with ongoing practice, help reduce discomfort associated with deep neck flexor weakness. 

In Pilates, we ensure the deep neck flexors are engaged using verbal cueing techniques. Throughout the duration of your Physiolates class, your instructor will encourage and remind you to engage your deep neck flexors and maintain good neck alignment. This includes cues such as imaging you are holding a small piece of fruit underneath your chin. Alternatively, imagine you have a piece of string attached to the back of your head and someone is gently pulling it towards the ceiling. By following these cues, we are lengthening the neck, drawing the chin gently in towards the chest and engaging those deep neck flexors.

Through repeated practice, we can improve the strength of the deep neck flexors and encourage carryover of better head and neck posture into everyday activities such as prolonged computer work and driving. However, these improvements in head and neck posture are also beneficial for all daily activities well as improving general sport and recreational activity performance.

Some exercises that are great for activating and strengthening the deep neck flexors include:

Maintaining good strength in the muscles of the neck is important with the growing demands and static postures of daily activities. If you suffer with neck pain, Pilates, and more specifically, deep neck flexor strengthening may help improve your symptoms.

For further information regarding our Physiolates classes or to speak to one of our Physiolates instructors, please do contact us on 0330 088 5778

We hope to see you in one of our classes soon!

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