23 Jan Pilates Principles #3 The Neutral Spine & Optimal Pelvic Position
Why is the Neutral Spine Important?
The Spine connects the Shoulder Girdle and the Pelvic Girdle – like a keel of a boat connects the bulkheads… (please correct me if my terminology is wrong) … and these bulkheads support the hull of the ship against the pressure of the water.
I love the comparison of our spine being the keel and the bulkheads our shoulder and pelvic girdles. I also love that they share the same name: “girdle”. Coincidence? Or perhaps it’s because they share common elements: they’re both connected to the spine and both provide support for limbs. If you think of quadruped animals, perhaps the similarity between the two girdles becomes more apparent!
You don’t need to be mariner to appreciate that if the keel of the ship becomes misaligned then the strength of the vessel is compromised. Our spine is exactly like that. It works best when it is in alignment.
The spine is no different: it works best when it’s in alignment. In that way it allows the pelvic girdle and shoulder girdle to work most efficiently. That is to:
provide maximum and free range of movement
and a solid platform for the limbs to apply force
when lifting, pushing, pulling, jumping running or any other activity…
What is the “Neutral Spine”?
A “neutral spine” has all three of it’s curves in their correct places and in proportion.
The pelvis is used as a proxy for lumbar spinal position. As your pelvis moves backwards and forwards (rather, rotates), your lower spine decreases and increases it’s natural curve. Have a look:
- The more the pelvis rotates forwards, the more the lower (lumbar) spine curves in. This is “Anterior Pelvic Tilt“ – the name of the posture is “lordosis”. See the first picture – below.
- Conversely, The more the pelvis rotates backwards, the more the lumbar spine flattens. This is “Posterior Pelvic Tilt“. See the middle picture – below.
As a quick aside (it’s a little off topic) that really underlines the comparison with the ship’s keel: Look at the video below. Notice how the chest and head move in response to the rocking of the pelvis!
The importance of Joseph Pilates’ Principles: concentration, control and precision is underlined in this apparently very simple Pre-Pilates exercise.
How to find your Neutral Spine: the short version
You can find a neutral position in supine by the following two methods:
- identifying and then using the bony prominences of the pelvis: ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine), the PSIS (Posterior Superior Iliac Spine);
- or by balancing the muscle engagement on the front and back of the body – requires increased awareness.
Lying supine, place the heels of your hands on your ASIS bones and your fingertips on your Pubis. Gently rock backwards and forwards until this triangle is parallel to the floor.
Finding Neutral Spine / Pelvic Orientation Using Bony Prominences of the ASIS:
Finding Neutral Using Muscle Tension
… a Quick Tour of the Pelvis
Have a quick look at Deep Abdominal Activation to discover how the Transversus Abdominus lifts up towards our “Hip Bones” to push our fingers out of place in the “Finger Tip Abdominal” Pre-Pilates exercise.
Those “hip bones” are the ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Crests):
– the bony prominences (right & left) of your pelvis that are
- at the front (Anterior),
- at the top (Superior)
- of the Iliac (Ilium) the two sides of the pelvis that
- rise upwards the extreme top part that rises up and over like the crest of a wave (Spine).
The PSIS is at the back: Posterior Superior Iliac Crests.
What’s the “Optimal” Spinal Position?
… as opposed to “Neutral”
A Neutral Spine: this is an ideal starting position for each exercise:
- The core works best in this position;
- it decreases the stress on the spine
- and minimises the chances of injury.
However, for many people, maintaining a neutral spinal position when lying supine can lead to lower back strain and/or overly tight spinal extensors. In other words, while it may notionally be ideal, it’s not always “optimal”.
- Beginners – you may need both support and increased awareness (proprioception) to learn where neutral is.
- People with unstable/highly flexible lumbar spines – keeping the back neutral during more challenging exercises may be difficult.
- If you have an increased or decreased lumbar lordosis (for whatever reason) – you may need support to relax the lower back muscles.
If a neutral spine is not recommended or is difficult to maintain, try either:
- An Imprinted spine: the lower spine is pressed into the mat when lying on your back – as in the Pelvic Rocking video above – but unlike rocking – it stays there throughout the exercise.
- A Supported spine: try a small rolled up towel (see video below) or a specially designed cushion.
Also, people with the following conditions may prefer a supported spine:
- Spondylolisthesis (anterolisthesis only)
- Spinal stenosis
- Spinal arthritis
- Some sacroiliac joint dysfunctions
- Some disc injuries
Well, thank you very much for reading. I hope that you found it useful, any comments, questions or suggestions, please send an email, or leave a comment below.
All the best,