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Demystifying Pilates – what is ‘neutral spine’?

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

We’re often told to make sure we’re in ‘neutral spine’ in a Pilates class, but what does this actually mean?

We know that Pilates exercises help to keep the spine mobile and healthy. But did you know that a ‘neutral spine’ is 30% stronger than a flexed spine?

The spinal column is made up of 26 vertebral bones (7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar and the sacram and coccyx are the last two). There are four curves in the spine which provide flexibility of movement and resilience enabling the body to turn, bend, twist and stretch. This ‘s-shape’ makes sure our weight is centred over our feet to help us stay balanced and upright.

When the curves are balanced our weight is evenly distributed throughout the spine. In Pilates, all movements are performed in neutral spinal alignment. This is when each disc has an equal load-bearing surface which helps to reduce injury or strain. Misalignment increases the stress on the spine and can result in back pain and postural problems.

What is a ‘neutral posture’?

· Feet should be hip width apart with weight evenly distributed across both feet.

· The ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be in a straight line.

· Your head should be central on the shoulders which should be level with the neck lengthened and chin parallel to the floor.

· Imagine you have a golden thread on the top of your head and it’s drawing you upwards, lengthening your spine.

Which postural type are you?

There are a few classic postural types, caused by genetics, poor posture, weak ligaments, weak muscles, or injury. These include:

· Lordotic posture - excessive lumbar curve and an anterior tilt of the pelvis.

· Kyphotic posture - excessive thoracic curvature of the spine.

· Flat back where there is little or no lumbar curve and a slight posterior tilt of the pelvis.

Pilates is great for developing body awareness and the exercises can be tailored to different postural tendencies. We can start to experience how a neutral spine feels and feel all the benefits that go along with this.

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