Pilates vs. Tension

Do you have tension in your shoulders and neck? Do you grip the tops of your feet when you walk, or have other gripping patterns?

Tension in shoulders, neck and feet are common especially for those who drive or sit at a desk for several hours each day (I speak from personal experience here!). Some of us hold stress in different parts of our bodies, which may result in aching and discomfort. While aches could be a sign of a bigger problem (please check with your doctor just to be sure), it could be the result of a movement pattern I like to call a “detour.”

A detour is my made-up term for a movement compensation pattern that takes over when the deep core muscles aren’t firing properly. Remember taking an alternate route when a major highway was under construction? Our bodies are similar – they are smart and will find a work-around if the main highway is blocked.

In an ideal world, all movement we do transfers directly through the core. The core (abdominals, low back muscles, pelvic floor, and diaphragm) is like a grand central station where forces flow through like traffic and are evenly distributed most of the time. When the core muscles don’t fire or the body isn’t used to relying on core muscles for assistance, alternate movement patterns will pop up, such as shrugging the shoulders or gripping the feet. While these detours may help us get the job done in the short-term, they may also cause problems in the long-run.

Enter Pilates, a form of exercise that emphasizes repatterning and core integration. The springs on Pilates equipment are designed to help the body let go of compensation patterns and learn to take a more direct route through the core. A Pilates instructor can offer cues and imagery to help you repattern and reconnect with your core for more easeful movement.

The next time you notice a gripping pattern in your body, try exploring core connection cues from your Pilates sessions and see if it helps. If you have compensation patterns from recent or prior injuries, check with your health care provider before starting Pilates to see if it is right for you. Happy moving!

This post was written by a Pilates instructor, not a doctor or physical therapist. This post is not medical advice. Please consult with your health care provider before beginning or altering an exercise program.