I’ve been teaching Pilates for over 13 years, and today I strained my neck, doing Pilates.
Yes, I’ll admit it out loud. I actually injured myself, doing what I love most in the world, and am icing my neck (as I type this).
Except, it wasn’t exactly what I love to do. Let me explain. (Wait… this article is supposed to help me eliminate pain from poor posture! Hang with me! I’ll get there).
I am normally a posture fanatic (technically called a Certified Posture Specialist), and I do daily stretches/exercises to combat the effects of our rounded forward technology laden lifestyle. However, this past week I went 4 days without doing ANYTHING. Since I had been remiss in doing my posture workouts, I hadn’t done any kind of back extension work (working the back muscles by bending backward) like I usually do. This meant my upper back/neck alignment was sitting more rounded than normal.
The online Pilates class I took this morning had me flexing forward into crunches for 10 minutes straight. Then we were on our upper spines doing an exercise called the rollover, and I found myself super tight and struggling to find the flexibility for this exercise. All of a sudden, my back and neck flared up. POOF. Strained.
I thought to myself, “If a 13-year Pilates teaching veteran can strain herself in this 15-minute routine, I wonder how the average person fares with this easily accessible class with no hands-on instruction?”
“I was just picking up my laundry basket and darn! Suddenly my back went out!”
“I slept funky one day and wow now I can barely check my blind spot while driving.”
A lot of people (80% of Americans to be exact) experience this kind of spinal pain at one point or other. So, if you’re living in neck or back pain, or perhaps living in fear of neck or back pain, these tips on reducing pain through proper posture, are for you.
Think of posture as building blocks. If one of the blocks is out of alignment, the whole building comes crashing down. Especially if someone touches/shoves the building blocks, placing excess strain on the structure.
In my case, my upper back/spine building block was out of alignment from lack of exercise/attention, and I forced my spine into a position that placed it under undue stress. BOOM. Building blocks, down.
The good news here: you can keep your building blocks pretty healthy on your own. You are in charge. It’s a pretty simple solution.
Here are my top 5 tips on how to eliminate pain you may be experiencing from less than stellar or poor posture:
Open your chest muscles, every single day.
We sit at a computer, we round over our phones and we hunch over our steering wheel. These activities place our upper back in a curved position for at least a third of our day. Therefore, it’s up to us to counterbalance these rounded positions, with a feel good, super yummy chest stretch like this one:
Wake up your sleeping inner core.
Everyone has a “corset” muscle that is very important to your spinal stability; it’s called the Transversus Abdominis (TVA). When you tighten up your belly, you’re activating your TVA. Try this exercise as a way to engage all the important inner core muscle.
Squeeze your shoulder blades.
There are muscles that attach to the inner wings of your shoulder blades that pull them together. Imagine you have a pencil sitting between your shoulder blades, and squeeze the pencil. Do this 10 times in a row, 3 times a day.
Learn to hinge from your hips.
Our lower backs are flexible in that they are able to bend forward. The problem is these lower back muscles are not as powerful as our glutes, or hamstrings (behind the legs), which are muscles that help us bend forward from the hip joint. Learn to bend from the hips and to use the more dominant, powerful muscles. Check out this pic below for a modified “deadlift” which involves hinging from the hips:
Most of us spend our time breathing with very little rib cage movement instead of breathing from our muscles in our neck (i.e. neck tightness!). These rib cage muscles (intercostal muscles) are meant to expand and contract the rib cage to make room for you to take in as much air as possible, which in turn, heals and energizes your body.
I could write a normal “wrap it up” conclusion here to inspire you to take on these tips and implement them all into your life. But let’s be realistic. You may already be doing some of these, or you may have never read about any of these tips before. Either way, pick one that you can digest, learn and implement it by tomorrow. Once that is mastered, you can move on to the rest.
The key lesson here when it comes to pain and posture is that YOU are in charge of your body’s destiny. My exercises are tips and guides for you on your quest for a pain-free journey.
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