Pain in the neck and shoulder areas can be, pardon the pun, a real pain in the neck.

If you experience neck and shoulder pain, you’re not alone. Neck and shoulder pain are among the most common physical ailments adults suffer from these days – and with reason. Most of us spend our days enduring high stress levels, in sustained positions at the computer, while exhibiting poor posture. Unfortunately, these factors put us on the fast track to neck and shoulder tension.

The pain can be debilitating, but we can easily reverse the problem with proper training and focus. Pilates offers the essential tools to help eliminate neck and shoulder strain.

Poor posture

Most neck pain is attributable to poor posture. Many of us regularly spend hours sitting in front of a computer or driving. When we are in those sustained positions, we aren’t usually thinking about using good posture.

Poor posture can cause excessive fatigue in the neck muscles. Pilates can help to improve posture in a very engaging way by stretching and elongating the muscles surrounding the neck and spine. By stabilizing and improving endurance of the upper back muscles, we can improve posture and reduce pain in the neck and shoulders. Once these muscles are recruited and regularly engaged, proper posture becomes second nature.

The Pilates focus on engaging the core is another helpful way to get the neck and shoulder muscles to relax. Weakness in the deep muscles surrounding the core often results in leaning forward, thereby causing the neck and shoulder musculature to overwork. This compensation goes unnoticed until you build an awareness of your core muscles to restore proper muscle balance. By engaging your core and strengthening the deep abdominal muscles, you can effectively reduce tension in the neck and shoulders.

If you have taken Pilates classes, you are likely familiar with one of the biggest Pilates cues – tucking in your chin to make your neck long in the back. When your body is trained to maintain this position, you dramatically reduce the strain in your neck and shoulders. This exercise of neck lengthening helps to keep the deep neck muscles engaged, which is critical for proper muscle balance.

The muscles that surround the shoulder blades are a key part of this process. By dropping your shoulders down and back and making your neck long, your neck and shoulder muscles effectively rebalance. This positioning is essential for reducing strain and eliminating neck and shoulder pain.

Reducing the strain on the neck and shoulders is all about building awareness of the right muscles. We can easily eliminate the problem by gaining knowledge and learning how to recruit the muscles properly. Pilates prompts this level of awareness, allowing one to maintain long-term relief in the neck and shoulders and enjoy a pain-free existence.

Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness in Los Altos. For more information, call 947-8500 or visit