Pilates for Shoulder Pain

If you have chronic shoulder pain, a shoulder injury or are recovering from shoulder surgery, regular exercises will help you restore normal shoulder flexibility and motion, which will reduce your pain. Physical therapy exercises typically isolate the shoulder. Pilates advocates, however, say that a whole-body approach works better for recovering from — and preventing — shoulder issues.

Alignment
Pilates training helps you because it improves your body’s overall alignment. For example, when you stabilize your scapula in its most functional position on your ribcage, this helps you maintain correct shoulder and cervical spine alignment. When your body has poor alignment, pain is often the result. Postural weakness often is associated with pain symptoms in your shoulder and neck areas. Pilates is an effective way to improve upper spine posture and abdominal strength, according to a 2010 study published in “Clinical Biomechanics” conducted by researchers at Canada’s McGill University. Pilates also stabilizes your core posture, which you need as you perform shoulder flexion movements such as raising your arms over your head, and your flexibility and strength, according to lead study author K. Emery. This combination may help you prevent both occasional and chronic neck-shoulder disorders.

Mechanics
Some Pilates exercises have a direct impact on shoulder mechanics in addition to helping with alignment. For example, working your back extensors, particularly those in your mid-back, is important because these muscles play a role in shoulder mechanics. These muscles help to align your body so that you maintain correct posture as well. Unfortunately, you may have weak back extensors as well as weak shoulder external rotators if you drive a lot, work on a computer, ride a bike, do lots of push-ups or often perform other actions that are in a forward-oriented direction. This imbalance often leads to shoulder and neck problems, notes Rael Isacowitz, author of the book “Pilates.”

Time Frame
When you use Pilates to improve shoulder pain, it will not be an overnight cure, says “The Pilates Difference” author Jennifer Dufton. Instead, expect to notice slow but steady improvement. For example, when you incorporate the Pilates scapular stabilization exercise, you’ll eventually notice that it helps prevent muscular fatigue while you are working on your computer.

Breast Cancer Application
If you are a woman who is recovering from breast cancer, Pilates may be an effective and safe way to regain shoulder range of motion and decrease pain, according to a 2008 study published in the journal “Physical Therapy.” This type of exercise is especially helpful for shoulder abduction, which is the motion you use when you raise your arm to the side, and for external rotation, which occurs when you move your arm from your side so that it ends up behind you.

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