Neutral spine – It’s not just for Christmas!
It’s that time of year again when instructors are suddenly coping with the post-turkey rush of clients wanting a flat tummy and heading for Pilates as the quick fix.
You and I both know that the benefits of Pilates don’t arrive quickly or by accident. You need to retain those new keen beans and teach them good technique so they can really understand Pilates and then get the benefits.
Neutral spine – what is it and how do I know if I’m in it?
Anatomically speaking, neutral spine is when your hip bone and your pubic bone are in alignment. The positioning of your lumbar vertebrae will alter from your ‘normal’ spine position and you will have to make an effort to stay in this neutral position. This is, the strongest position structurally for your spine to be in and it’s the position it was designed to be in. All the muscle attachments, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and disks perform optimally in this position. In Pilates, a lot of our exercises aim to strengthen our core muscles while we are in this optimal position. A sub-optimal non-neutral position can alter both the safety and effectiveness of the exercise and it’s therefore hugely important that you (as the instructor) are able to teach, recognise and correct neutral spine. If you aren’t sure about someone’s positioning, don’t just leave it. The difference you make by correcting someone could literally change their life. You can make a real difference. Pilates with neutral spine performed correctly is the difference between a client who used to have back pain and a client who still has back pain.
As an instructor it is often hard to see our own technique and no-one is there to correct us. Embrace technology and film yourself finding neutral spine in standing, sitting, lying prone, supine and on either side. Watch it with your ‘instructor hat’ on and see if there is anything you would correct. Looking at the footage, can you see if the pubic bone and hip bone are in alignment? Is the pelvis level? When lying supine, how large is your lumbar arch? See if you can identify your neutral in each position without filming. Hopefully this will give you confidence to correct your own neutral spine in each position. Once you have really studied the footage of yourself and thought about how you would correct this, try to correct your class participants in the same way. Really observe. They will be amazed at the difference it makes if they had been accidentally not had a neutral spine in some exercises.
This is your gift to them (not just for Christmas!). Technique is everything.
What can happen if people are not in their neutral spine?
In between your vertebra are discs there is a soft gooey centre and a tougher exterior (think jelly baby!). The disks allow and compensate for movement in your spine. For example, if you laterally bend to your right, the spaces between your vertebra close on your right side and the impact absorbing disk centre is pushed towards your left. This is okay as it’s what your disks were designed to do. The posterior surface of the disk is the weakest part, which means forward flexion of any sort causes the centre of the disk to push towards that very weak part. Kyphosis is therefore a consideration posturally, as is doing something as simple as a mobility squat without neutral spine. This is now the difference between your client who had no injury staying that way, or becoming more likely to incur back pain.
Added to this, they are less likely to make postural benefits as they are unaware of where their neutral is. We cannot fix people’s posture and associated pain in one class a week. We need them to understand it and be able to correct their own posture in a variety of positions all week. They need to do the lion’s share with you there to remind them of anything they’ve missed.
The difference Pilates can make when your clients understand and use it themselves is phenomenal.