Jules Hardman

Pilates For Happy Shoulders

Pilates is well known for helping a bad back, but did you know how helpful Pilates can be if you suffer from shoulder problems?

Just like for back issues, we need to look at the whole body to see if we can identify the cause of shoulder pain, discomfort and dysfunction (if you’ve suffered a traumatic injury to your shoulder, then the problem is much easier to identify). A key point to remember if you are suffering is that the major joints in our bodies alternate in their need for stability and mobility.

If we start at the feet, the ankle joint is designed for mobility. Working upwards, this means the knees are designed for stability. That’s a really important concept to understand, because our wonderful bodies are masters at compensation, so if we lose mobility at one joint, such as the ankle, the knee will become more mobile to compensate for this! As the knee joint is designed for stability, if there is too much mobility, it fairly quickly leads to dysfunction and pain.

Looking at the shoulders, they’re designed for stability, so that means the thoracic spine (the upper part of the spine) needs to be mobile, otherwise it will cause dysfunction in the shoulders. If we think of someone (perhaps you!) who is ’round shouldered’, that basically means that they have lost a lot of thoracic mobility causing them to flex in their thoracic – think ‘hump’.

We also see the shoulder blades move upwards and outwards from their natural position, creating instability in the joint, leading to pain. Worse still, the shoulder joint can only have its full range of motion if the shoulder blades are stable: due to the way our bodies compensate, losing our thoracic mobility results in a loss of range of motion in our shoulders.

We can follow the kinetic chain down the body – are your shoulder problems caused by a problem that started in the lumbar region or the hips? Perhaps it was lower still, in the knees? Or did the problem start with stiff ankles?

Don’t despair, all is not lost! This is where Pilates comes in: the moves you do in a Pilates class all work to keep the mobility and the stability in the right areas of your body, keeping your body as compensation-free as possible!


Finally, here are a few tips to follow at home, and then we recommend coming to a Pilates class.


  1. Do Pilates.


  1. Don’t ‘stabilise’ your shoulders by forcing them down your back, this will only jam them up more.


  1. Allow the shoulders to melt down the back, visualising the distance between your shoulders and ears getting bigger and bigger.


  1. Think about the tips at the bottom of your shoulder blades gently drawing in towards your spine.


  1. Be aware of those lower muscles working – they are often very switched off so be aware it may take a while to sense this, do NOT force.


  1. When you have a sense of those muscles working, gently pulse them a few times a day, keeping the shoulders relaxed – notice that as you work these muscles your breastbone lifts upwards.


  1. Enjoy the feeling of being wide and open across your chest. Notice how your head starts to return to a much more natural position, your eye level will be straight ahead……. so smile and greet the world.