Do you sit at a desk and get on and off niggles in your neck, back, hips? ………Then this article is for you!!
Pilates is seen as something done mainly by women, but men you are wrong!! If anything it is more important for you to be doing Pilates, or just as important, as it is more likely to be you that sits for long hours at a desk (not being sexist), and switch off those muscles that you should be using to support your neck back and pelvis.
These important muscles are your transverse abdominals and your deep neck flexors, both of which are very often forgotten about, or like most people outside of the healthcare industry, you didn’t even know they existed… Now you do. I have added a picture of both muscles, so you are able to see where about they lie. Your transverse abdominals are the deepest of the abdominal wall, however they are palpable as shown in the image below about 1 inch in and down from the bony bits at the front of your pelvis (ASIS).
There are different ways of switching these muscles on. One description could be two magnets on your hip bones drawing together, or tightening a belt around your waist, or drawing up through your pelvic floor, different cues work differently for people, but when they are on your should feel a rise in the muscle under your fingers. Your pelvis should also be in a neural position, abs switched off and breathing normally (a lot of people tend to hold their breathe). In the position as shown on the right, get use to switching these muscles on and off and then you can start doing different exercises. It will also enable you to be able to switch them on in day to day situations like sit to stand from a chair, or when walking along the street, off loading the lower back, making you less susceptible to pain.
To the left are your deep neck flexors and as you can see they attach directly onto the spine and give your neck the support. Feel that your head is getting heavy towards the end of the day? These muscles are normally the culprits of being weak on not switching on properly. It is not very exciting, but important exercise to be able to switch these muscles on, as they very often are inhibited when you start to get pain in your neck or maintain poor postures. You need to train these muscles to switch on and also the duration of them as they are having to work all day from when you wake up in the morning to when you lie down to go to sleep.
Switching on and re-training your deep neck flexors:
As you can see from the picture to the left it is a really small movement. It is important that the head is positioned so that your bigger neck muscles at the front of your neck are relaxed. For most people this is a small folded towel is perfect.
The movement you need is a very small chin ‘nod’ without moving the neck further back into the bed. By feeling the front of your neck you should feel like the muscles at the front stay relaxed and after a couple of repetitions the muscles deeper and closer to your windpipe working. To increase the endurance you want to hold the nod for 10 seconds without the other muscles switching on to compensate. For those of you that know theses are the sternocleidomastoid’s (SCM’s).
Once you have strengthened these sufficiently over a period of a couple of weeks you will be able to move onto more interesting exercises carried out in Pilates to further strengthen your deep neck flexors.
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by Jade Blake, Physio4Life’s Senior Physiotherapist