If you have ever been to a Pilates class you will hear the term ‘neutral spine’ mentioned a lot. But is a neutral spine actually good posture and why is it important?
A neutral spine can be described as ‘the position of the body where the least amount of stress is placed on the joints’. This allows the right muscles to work, helping to maintain optimal posture and movement. When the spine is in neutral, it also allows us to breathe more effectively – poor position of the pelvis can lead lead to a weakened pelvic floor. In terms of posture think about a slouched or hunched posture. This posture doesn’t allow full expansion of the rib cage and so affects our breathing.
As well as breathing properly, a neutral spine allows the deep muscles of the ‘core’ to stabilise our spine properly, helping to maintain a better posture. The abdominals and the deep muscles of the back along with the pelvic floor and diaphragm are in the best position possible to support the spine and pelvis. A stable spine and pelvis means less strain placed on them resulting in less tension throughout the body and less risk of injury when performing daily tasks such as lifting and carrying. It also contributes to better balance overall because the muscles can work effectively instead of using energy to hold us up against gravity. Again if you think of a very arched lower back, to compensate the knees usually have to lock out to counterbalance the change in gravity. In pregnancy this change of gravity can contribute to lower back pain as other muscles now have to work to stabilise the body and keep it upright and moving.
A good posture will also contribute to reduced injury risk and help the spine to cope with impact better during activities such as running, jumping, heavy lifting but also Yoga and Pilates.
How do we find neutral and good posture then? Have a look at the image of the plumb line. Now stand in front of a mirror and see if you can replicate the position of the dots! You can also hang a piece of string in front to help you.
Finding neutral is the same in most positions but is easiest to find when lying on the floor as you can use the floor to feel where you are. Knees bent and make sure knees and feet are level and in line with the hip bones. Relax the shoulder blades into the mat. Now gently tip the pelvis forwards as if you were tipping water towards your feet, the lower back will arch off the mat. Now go the other way. Tip the water over your chest and the lower back should flatten towards the mat and may gently press into the floor. Do that a few times then rest in the middle of those two points. If you were to look side-on at yourself, the pubic bone should be parallel to the floor with the bottom of the ribs and tips of the hips lined up. There should be a small arch in the lower back and neck.
Remember that one person’s neutral will be different from another. Our posture, body structures and other factors will determine where our neutral is.