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Improve your Posture with Pilates – Part 1

by | Aug 14, 2021 | Articles, Pilates for Menopause

I see so many people who have pain and problems with the neck and shoulder area and there is no doubt that poor posture contributes to their experiences of pain and dysfunction. I am particularly interested in how Pilates can improve posture and alignment because I know that this can have a huge impact on painful symptoms and improve overall quality of life. I am always at great pains to point out the ideal alignment for the head and neck during my Bone Healthy Pilates Classes but sadly this is an area commonly overlooked during group exercise classes.

Common postural defects

A common postural defect of the head and neck is called thUpper Crossed Syndrome which describes a particular set of circumstances; a combination of some weak, or inhibited muscles and some tight, or overactive muscles in and around the neck and shoulders. (First described by Professor Vladimir Janda in 1979)

But why does this happen? As with most anomalies it is rarely one thing but more likely a combination of factors including; the overall effects of gravity on posture, our increased reliance on handheld technology and screens, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, long days behind a desk or driving. I also feel that age related visual deterioration and use of bifocal or varifocal lenses goes a long way to contribute to this posture.

Consider the effects of posture on the weight of the head

Gravity is constantly pressing down on us and the more forward the head comes to lie this effectively increases the weight of the head. The muscles have to work so much harder as a result and this goes some way to explain why this posture can provoke pain and overactivity of the muscles which are fighting against this postural presentation.

After the onset of menopause it is worth noting that a fairly reliable predictor for the likelihood of osteoporotic spinal compression fracture is the occiput /wall test. When we stand against a wall and measure the distance of the occiput (a bony protuberance at the base of the skull) from the wall. A distance of greater than 7cm can predict the likelihood of a thoracic vertebral fracture with high accuracy.

Reference

The presentation you see pictured above is as good a reason as any to be more aware of the alignment on the head and neck and take action sooner rather than later.

So what can we do?

If I said exercises could help would you be surprised?

The general principles are to stretch and release tight/overactive muscles and re-educate and strengthen weakened/inhibited muscles

I am also very keen that when working out core musculature during pilates that we are not fuelling this flexed postural set with crunches and curls and that if we do for whatever reason lift the head away from the ground that the deep neck flexors are activated to support the cervical lordosis from the front.

This all sounds very technical…..because it is. Hence the value of working with a Physiotherapist to ensure you are gaining the most benefit from the exercises that you do and not reinforcing this unhelpful postural presentation.

Strengthen scapular stabilising muscles for improved posture

Author: Phillipa Butler. Chartered Physiotherapist

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Pilates for Menopause for Massage Therapists and Manual Therapists  - NAT Diploma Course with Precizion 10 CEUs

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