Pilates for Neck Pain? It’s About More Than Just The Core!

When I ask people what they know about Pilates they will nearly always talk about things like core stability, abdominals and low back pain.

So sometimes my patients can be a little surprised when I suggest that Pilates would be helpful for their neck problems or headaches.

People with neck pain often present with tightness in the neck muscles, poor posture and weakness in some of the smaller muscles which control head and neck movement. Additionally stress can also play a role in increasing or prolonging neck tension and pain.

The great thing about Pilates is that it is an excellent method of exercise for strengthening and flexibility, but there is much more to it than that.

A Pilates exercise course should always contain at least these 5 key elements:

  • Breathing control
  • Core control
  • Awareness of head and neck posture
  • Control of shoulder blade movement and posture
  • Control of the rib cage throughout movements

Pilates is also a mind body exercise so there is an element of mindfulness each movement that we do which helps reduce stress and also improve body awareness.

I was very interested to see this research article (see below) which was published in 2013. It was only a small pilot study, but showed very promising outcomes for people with neck pain who attended a 6 week Pilates course.

This study in particular was of interest to our clinic because the Pilates course that was used was based on the APPI (Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute) method.

You might be aware that I am an instructor for this group (APPI) and that we run courses for physiotherapists from around Australia at Move, which teach them how to use Pilates in their clinics and practice.

It is a method of Pilates that was developed by physiotherapists to use in a clinical setting so exercises have been modified so people with injuries can still perform them and involves progression of the exercises to improve performance and function well beyond healing of the injury.

The program used in this particular research study is almost identical to that which is used in our Beginners Mat Pilates course at Move and is suitable for people who have recently had neck or back pain.

Our staff can assess your suitability for attending this program so if you’re not sure whether it would be right for you to attend please feel free to ask your physio.

For more information about our Beginners Mat Pilates course or to register online, click here. You can also call us on 8373 5655.

The following is a summary of the research program which was published in the study

Study Title

The effectiveness of a 6-week Pilates programme on outcome measures in a population of chronic neck pain patients: a pilot study.

Mallin G, Murphy S. 2013.
6 – week Matwork based Pilates Programme.
13 subjects
Measurements: Neck Disability Index (NDI),Patient Specific Functional Scale (PSFS) & Numerical Rating Pain Scale(NRPS)
Statistically significant improvement was found at both 6 and 12 weeks in the disability outcomes. NRPS improved at 12 weeks but not 6 weeks.
MCID (Minimal Clinically Important Difference)was achieved at 12 weeks.
J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2013 Jul;17(3):376-84.2013  Epub 2013 Apr 24.


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