A little neck pain or soreness after exercise is very common and completely safe. But if you have a student displaying symptomatic neck pain — telling you things like they’re so stiff they can’t properly turn their head, or that the pain disturbs their sleep or they’re feeling constant tension in their neck or upper shoulders — it’s time to feel empowered as their teacher to offer sound advice based in science-based evidence.
Too often, such people are told the key to tackling this kind of sensation is to relax the area, to release tension through massage or simple disuse. However, in this case, the route of least resistance is not the path to a pain-free future.
It’s a common misconception that working on the computer for long hours or scrolling on your phone can cause neck pain, however the research tells us something very different. Studies examining neck pain from that perspective all but ruled out treatment techniques such as ergonomics and massage, labeling them both as largely ineffective for long-term relief. What this research has found is that what we really want to do is exercise the neck, strengthen it and thus eliminate the true source of most neck and shoulder discomfort, whether that includes the sensation of soreness and tightness, restricted range, and even pain .
Interestingly enough, studies have also found that the quantity and quality of sleep play a massive role in neck pain. It’s not the position, as even the most corkscrewed sleepers can wake up feeling chipper, but really the connection between sleep deprivation and sensitivity to pain. This has been studied intensively with results suggesting that exposure to chronic insufficient sleep may increase vulnerability to chronic pain by altering our processes for dealing with pain.
So besides getting a solid night of sleep, what else can we do to soothe a sore neck? As Pilates instructors, we can guide students through a range of exercises they can do with you or at home to strengthen up the relevant muscles. One big contributor is the upper trapezius, the muscle that sits right on top of our shoulders and is used when you pull up for a shrug. Again, though it may sound counterintuitive, the way to reduce pain here is to build strength, which requires applying load to that shrug and working it out.
Students might tell you they can’t do that because it’ll make their neck sore. Your answer to that is simple — Yes, you may get some short term soreness in that area but if we offer the advice that if we slowly build up the strength in this area for them, they could find long term relief – how amazing is that!
Basic exercises include working with our trusty flex-band to create some tension to pull against. That’s easy enough to do and simply requires sitting up straight, folding the band in half and using your head to pull against it, holding the loose end out to the side as an anchor. There’s a demonstration as to what this actually looks like at the end of this bottom video that Raphael made as part of his “Ask Me Anything” series. You don’t strictly need the band to apply appropriate tension, so you can use a rolled-up towel, exercise ball or even just your hands. We personally like to use power bands for this, and we’ve also seen a kind of weight-lifter head cradle if you’d like to really step up the load.
Joseph Pilates was well ahead of his time (as always) and invented a piece of apparatus called the ‘Neck Stretcher’ was designed to strengthen the neck in a similar manner that you can replicate with the bands, which the picture you see inset here.
Finally, as many of the muscles of the shoulder help control the neck, we can work on those to great effect in reducing pain. This is fairly easy to do, as almost anytime when we’re working our arms, especially when lifting a load up, we’re using these shoulder muscles. For a more targeted exercise, there’s evidence that simple lateral raises with a flex band can yield really good results for people with chronic neck pain. Working on these for just two minutes a day should give a nice burn while strengthening those support muscles.
So there you have it! As with most good things in life, pushing through that initial discomfort here is the key to fighting chronic neck pain. Check out the videos hyperlinked in the text above for more in-depth explainers and, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions!
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As a member of the Nov 22 Breathe Education intake I feel much more confident in my teaching and programming skills. Moving forward I feel very positive about my Pilates career. It's a Thumbs up from me!
I have just finished my Pilates certification through Breathe Education and am excited to say that I have already been hired by a studio and started my new journey as a Pilates teacher. I loved the course and was surprised (and delighted) that any online course could achieve such a level of personal attention/feedback and realistic practice teaching opportunities.
Breathe Education Matwork/Reformer Certification is outstanding because of:1. Brilliant Masterclass teachers.2. Comprehensive and achievable online course content.3. I feel super confident to instruct Pilates because of the course content and structure.4. Pilates Elephants 🐘Thanks Breathe Education!!!!! 😊
Where do I start.... Breathe Education have been fantastic. I am so glad that I picked them as my education provider. The trainers have all been fantastic (special shout out to Hailey, Phoebe and Natalie), the staff are all so supportive and encouraging and the course content is mind-blowing. I love that Breathe are evidence-based and empower fearless movement. They really make the course content easy to understand and break it down in such a simple way. You will also finish the course being a confident and skilled pilates instructor! I am also so excited to start the Diploma once I am in a financial position to do so. I highly recommend Breathe and if you haven't already enrolled, or are thinking of enrolling, then I suggest you do so asap! It's 5 stars from me.
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Have just completed my first module of the Diploma in Clinical Pilates and it has truly been a huge eye opener. Have thoroughly enjoyed learning how to build a therapeutic alliance with my clients and understanding how there is so much more relating to pain than an injury. I look forward to continuing on my studies with the next two modules.
This was my 3rd and finial Module. I have learnt so much over the last 12 months from anatomy to bio psychosocial aspects, how it contributes to pain in so many ways. How to work with people/clients as a whole person and not just their injury and/or pain.The instructors/lecturers are amazing and will help in any way they can to make sure you succeed.I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wishes to become a Clinical Pilates instructor. Karen J
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I am currently enrolled in the Diploma of Clinical Pilates. This course has transformed the way I teach, I am far more confident. My clients appreciate the knowledge and variety I am bringing to my classes and private training sessions. I am so grateful I signed up and I'm excited for what's to come.
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I loved this course, I have been a Pilates Instructor for over 10 years and a studio owner for 6 years. This course has exponentially increased my knowledge and confidence. I feel confident working with all clients, individuals who require rehab after injury or surgery as well as clients who have issues with pain.The format of the course allowed me to fit it around work and family life. The tutors are excellent, always going the extra distance to help you succeed. A big thank you to Adam and Heath for the way the content is presented and reinforced in the tutorials and to Raph for the always up to date content in the lectures.
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Deciding to get my pilates certification through Breathe Education was the best decision I could have made. I am wrapping up my undergraduate degree currently, so doing a completely remote certification at the same time was the best option for me. I have ADHD and have always struggled with remote learning, so I was nervous / apprehensive about realistically staying on top of the workload.B.E. has structured this whole program in an organized and efficient manner that makes it hard NOT to succeed. There are weekly practice teaching sessions and tutorials that are required (which is a wonderful thing because of the accountability aspect to stay on top of it)...All the different learning styles were implemented throughout the e-learning material to cater to everyone -- there were podcasts to listen to, video demonstrations, articles to read, written assessments, verbal teaching assessments, and then of course, physical assessments of us actually performing the repertoire. The material within the course has expanded my knowledge greatly, and it was taught in a way that simplified things so that I never felt overwhelmed. Because of this approach, I was able to feel more confident in my abilities throughout the courseAll of the instructors truly care about the success of their students and are very thorough in all of the lectures and master classes. I am considering doing the clinical diploma a little further down the line, and I would absolutely recommend this program to a friend. <3
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I have loved my time with Breathe and I’m sad that my course will be coming to an end shortly! I’ve learned not only how to teach pilates, but I’m also learning about movement in my own body and the Breathe community is such a safe and positive environment to learn it in. The trainers are the best and the community is so supportive and uplifting. I’m excited about the progress and growth that I’ve accomplished since the start of the course and I can’t wait to get started with my own teaching experience! So grateful for this program!!!
From the very first day I started my training with Breathe, right up until the end, I received constant support, guidance and reassurance throughout the entire course. I'd like to personally thank my trainer Hailey Hawkins, whom I had every week for my tutorials, you are such an inspiration that I can only hope to become one day! The whole course is structured in a way where it is actually achievable and suitable to any lifestyle. I was a little concerned about the course being 100% online, but Breathe made it highly interactive which I thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and completing practice teaching hours with my peers. My favourite module was module 3 learning about prenatal clients, being a new mum myself this was most inspiring to me! One of my main goals in becoming a Pilates Instructor is to help empower other fellow mothers to feel safe and supported in working out. Thank you Breathe for this journey, I hope I can have the opportunity to study with you again soon.
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This course has made me feel amazing both physically and mentally. I suffer chronic pain from a neck injury. The Breathe course has helped me manage my pain better than I ever have before. My trainer was Hayley who is fabulous. I have made some great new friends and we will continue to support each other now that we are qualified Pilates instructors. Fantastic course highly recommend.
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The thing that caught my attention was something I thought of yesterday when i was deciding to share things with the world of hope and action i have bursting out of me for mother nature and the balance of all things in life. This was the fact it didn't matter if one could spell correctly it shows the kind of direction I need to go as this is rare to see in as my thoughts were there also my father is the best and most understanding person I know with showing or explaining how to do things he can explain it on the phone like as if he's there doing it infront of you and unfortunately his childhood he didn't know english and went to school with no clue what anyone was sayin sometimes when he wasn't kept home to work .
If you haven't already - the Pilates Elephants podcast is a must! I have learnt so much about pilates and love that it covers how to start your own business, body image, interviews with experts etc. Its valuable knowledge to help aspiring instructors and even students!