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The Easy Antidote to a Misaligned Pelvis, or, How to Fix Your Pelvis Alignment

Posted at October 10, 2012 | By : | Categories : Articles | 22 Comments

 

In the last post we learned that tucking the pelvis during exercise can have negative affects and it’s not the best way to strengthen your body or lengthen your spine. In this article we’ll look at the antidote to a tucked pelvis: the neutral pelvis.

Our spine has three curves in it: One in the low back called the lumbar curve; one in the upper to mid-back called the thoracic curve; and a curve in our neck called the cervical curve. These curves influence one another. If something is off balance in one, the other two will also be out of balance.

Since the spine rests on the pelvis, the curves of the spine are also influenced by the position of the pelvis.

Arching Your Back Too Much (Excessive Anterior Tilt)

If the top of the pelvis is tilted forward (anterior tilt) the lumbar curve will be deepened—it’s more commonly called “arching your back.” This also causes the other curves of the spine to deepen in response. When this happens, the individual vertebrae (bones that make up the spine) won’t be able to align with one another.

Excessive anterior tilt (arching) creates stress where the pelvis and spine meet (the lumbosacral joint) as well as stress in other joints of the spine. The top of the pelvis tilting forward also increases the stress on the hip joint.

If the top of the pelvis is tilted back (tucked) the curve of the lower back is flattened. Since the curves of the spine are the body’s natural shock absorbers, when they are flattened, it limits the spine’s ability to absorb the forces it meets throughout daily life. Additionally, the flexibility of the hip joint is reduced and can decrease your overall mobility.

Learning how the ideal alignment for your pelvis looks, and especially how it feels, can profoundly effect the health of your spine and health in general.

What Is a Neutral Pelvis Anyway?

If you’ve ever taken a Pilates class, you’ve probably heard the term “neutral pelvis.”

When I first started taking Pilates in 2001, I heard the term all the time. I never understood what the teacher was talking about, but I could tell from the tone of her voice that it was likely something important I needed to know.

It wasn’t until I started Pilates teacher-training in 2004 that I finally understood what neutral pelvis was actually all about, and it turns out… I didn’t have one. My pelvis was, pretty much, permanently locked in a tucked state.

So what is a neutral pelvis? The technical description of a neutral pelvis goes like this: When your ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine—the bony landmarks on the front of your hip bones) and your pubic bone are on the same level, or same plane, your pelvis is in a neutral position in relation to your spine.

Because I had become accustomed to the feeling of a flattened out lumbar curve (a tucked pelvis) when I first began working or standing with my pelvis in a more neutral position, it felt really unnatural. I felt like I was arching my lower back and sticking out my rear end. I had a difficult time finding the neutral position and it was frustrating!

Now I know that when the body is used to holding itself in a particular pattern, such as a tucked pelvis, you can’t just put it in its ideal alignment once or twice and expect it to take hold for good.

First you have to unlearn the old pattern by developing a new awareness. Second, you have to re-enforce the newly learned physical pattern with supportive movement, using imagery and teaching the body what the desired alignment feels like over time.

You Gotta’ Move It, Move It

A neutrally aligned pelvis allows the curves of the spine to operate in a balanced state with one another. This allows your spine to absorb the impact of the forces our bodies meet throughout our daily activities. But it’s not a position you want to stay fixed in constantly, or muscularly force yourself into.

The pelvis is comprised of three bones and each has its own, individual moving rhythm. Don’t think of the pelvis as fixed, or a single solid structure.

A neutral pelvic position is one you want to be able to find in your body and then, “…move from it, thru it and back to it.” (Marie Jose Blom). And this is not meant to be a fixed state, but more like a dance that your pelvis moves through as you your body adapts and moves.

Learning how to naturally maintain a neutral pelvis allows you to physically move through each day with fluidity and ease.

Locked Neutral Pelvis: Also Not Good

You can run into just as much trouble overcompensating to create a neutral pelvis as you can tucking your pelvis. Tipping the pelvis too far forward in an attempt to create a neutral position puts a strain on the lower back and makes it difficult to engage the deepest core muscles.

Forcing the pelvis into neutral and trying to make it stay there creates problems too. Sometimes people try to maintain what they think is a neutral pelvis while rolling up or lifting the head, neck and shoulders off the mat and they end up straining their backs. This is not good!

Some have confused the concept of a neutral pelvis with maintaining a small amount of space under the low back. Trying to keep space under the low back at any cost is not a panacea that will guarantee your pelvis maintains a neutral, or even optimal position. In fact, it’s probably going to hurt.

When the upper body lifts off the mat for a Roll Up, or sit up, the lower back naturally softens toward the floor because the weight of the upper body is leaving the floor. This is natural and very different from the lower back pressing into the floor because of a tucked pelvis.

As the body continues to roll up, the pelvis has to shift and adjust with the spine, as it leaves the floor. This is natural and OK.

How To Find Your Neutral Pelvic Alignment

Because no two bodies are exactly the same, one person’s ideal spinal alignment is not going to look the same as another’s.

Here is a general guide to help you find your ideal spinal alignment. You’ll want to assess yourself both standing and lying down. I recommend using a mirror for the standing assessment so you can see and feel your current pattern of alignment, as well as what your alignment feels like when your pelvis is in a neutral position.

Standing

Stand sideways in front of a mirror with your feet hip distance apart and parallel. Find your ASIS on each of your pelvic bones and place the heel of each hand on them. Leave the heels of your hands on your ASIS and place your fingertips on your pubic bone.

Look in the mirror to see if these 3 points are on the same plane. If the pubic bone is in front of the ASIS, notice how this causes the pelvis to tuck under. If the pubic bone is tipped behind the hip bones, notice how this causes a deeper curve in the low back (anterior tilt).

Now line the 3 points up on the same plane. First, look in the mirror to see what it looks like to stand with the pelvis in a neutral position. Then close your eyes, while maintaining neutral, and allow yourself to feel what neutral feels like.

Lying Down

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Find your ASIS on each of your pelvic bones and place the heel of each hand on them. Leave the heel of your hands on your ASIS and place your fingertips on your pubic bone.

Look to see if these 3 points are level. If the pubic bone is closer to the ceiling, your pelvis is in a more tucked position. If the hip bones are closer to the ceiling, your pelvis is in more of an anterior tilt and the curve of your lower back is deepened.

If you find that your pelvis falls easily into a neutral position, that’s wonderful. If you have discovered your pelvis is either a tuck or an anterior tilt, congratulations on making this discovery!

I mean that with 100% sincerity. Awareness is the first and most important step. If you aren’t aware of your alignment patterns, it is much more difficult, or impossible to correct them. So Congrats!

 

How To Correct Tucking or Anterior Tilt in the Pelvis

If you discovered that your pelvis was tucked, or tilted your first instinct was probably to just move your pelvis and line those points up. That’s a good thought initially, but what’s going to happen when you begin to challenge your new alignment through exercises or movement? You’ll probably revert back to your conditioned pattern.

To make this process easier, you want to assist your brain and body with some kinesthetic help. The suggestions below will speed up the process of developing your ideal pelvic and spinal alignment.

To Correct a Tucked Pelvis

  1. Take a hand towel and fold it in half and then fold it in half again.
  2. Lie on your back with the towel close by.
  3. Think about your tailbone and begin to get a sense of where it is and what direction it is pointing.
  4. Now take the hand towel and place it just underneath the sitting bones. Note that the towel is not under the sacrum. It’s just under the sitting bones.
  5. Allow your tailbone to relax and drop heavily toward the towel.
  6. Stay in this position with as little muscular effort as possible and just be and breathe for 3-5 minutes.

 

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To Correct a Pelvis with Excessive Anterior Tilt

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
  2. Fill in any space between your low back and the floor.
  3. Without using muscular effort, allow the lower back and top of the pelvis bones to melt into the towel.
  4. Stay in this position with as little muscular effort as possible and just be and breathe for 3-5 minutes.

 

Because of the tactile support the towels provide, the body will more easily and quickly adapt to the new, desired alignment without force. This will create much more ease in the body and a lot less frustration.

I’d also recommend using the towels when performing any exercise that requires lying on your back. This will help you strengthen the more desirable alignment, both physically and mentally, until you eventually won’t have to think about it at all! Because of the kinesthetic support the towel provides, your brain gets the message.

Pretty cool, huh?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these last two articles about the pelvis and alignment. I’m excited about this stuff and have lots of ideas for future articles.

If you have a request for something you’d like to learn more about, or hear my perspective on, you can leave a comment below, or send an email to me directly. I’d love to hear from you!

See you in the studio,

Sydney

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About Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

Sydney is a fully certi­fied Pilates instruc­tor through the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA).

Comment

  • Hasan

    April 3, 2013 at 4:19 am

    I have a twisted pelvic bone which is causing me to feel misaligned. I have pressure in my neck and upper back pain with slight breathing problems. What’s the best way to stretch / stabilize / strengthen the pelvic bone area?

    • Sydney

      April 3, 2013 at 7:45 am

      Hi Hasan, It really depends on what is causing the twist in the pelvic bones. Alignment issues can arise for many reasons, such as injury, postural habits or compensatory patterns.

  • Ronaldo

    July 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Sydney, would not the shape of one’s butt have influence on the look of the curve and influence the measure? e.g. perky, saggy, flat etc.

    • Sydney

      July 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Ronaldo, the shape of a person’s butt would have an influence on the look of the low back curve. So, you want to be sure to look for the bones (ASIS and pubic bone) and think of putting the bones in place first. From there, you prop the body as needed. For instance, if they have a lot of space between their low back and the floor after aligning the pelvis in neutral, you’ll want to fill that space in with a towel or blanket. This essentially brings the floor up to their body and allows the muscles in the low back to relax instead of tensing from the feeling of hanging in the air.

  • Kaileigh

    October 17, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Hi, ive pulled the joint where my lower back and my pelvis meet what would you suggest i do to make it get back in place??

    • Sydney

      October 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm

      Hi Kaileigh, without seeing you in person I’m unable to offer any suggestions. If you’re in pain I would recommend going to see someone like an osteopath or physical therapist.

  • Henry kim

    October 31, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Hello,

    I enjoyed your article.

    Are you sure the two pictures you posted for arterial tilt and tucked pelvis corrections are not reversed?

    It just seems from “mechanics”, that putting a towel directly under one’s tail bone will further increase pelvic tuck. No?

    • Sydney

      October 31, 2013 at 5:52 am

      Hi Henry, That’s a great question and I can see why it would seem that the pictures might be reversed. The idea with the towel is to bring the floor to the body. If someone has a tucked pelvis, the tailbone will be tilted more towards the ceiling and the floor is going to feel pretty far away to them when trying to find a neutral pelvis. By putting the towel under the sitting bones, this brings the floor closer. This way, they won’t have such a big correction to hold or force. Once they’ve gotten used to finding the towel with their tailbone and can easily maintain a more neutral pelvis with the towel, the next step is to take the towel away. Thanks for your question!

  • Hasan

    January 23, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for getting back to me, didn’t even realize you did. I’ve had x-rays done from several chiropractors and also seen quite a few, but my problem I feel is more neurological at this point because I literally feel like I’m facing to the right.

    Through some self-diagnosis, seems I have some really tight lower back muscle (left end) which is pulling my spine down — I’m not sure if this is due to a slipped disc I experienced a while ago or not but it does feel like I’m missing a lot of sensation on the left side of my body.

    I think some sacral muscle therapy might be the solution… because I can tell my hips are the cause of the issue; when I bend down for instance, my left lower back is so locked into place that my body is automatically bending to the right — attempts to stretch STRAIGHT cause a lot of painful cracks which give me temporary relief.

    Thinking I might just go see an Orthopedic surgeon and see if they can figure out — I’d really hoped there were better ways to fix this issue but now I’m losing hope. Have you heard of the Da Vinci tool?

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      January 24, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Hasan, I’m not familiar with the Da Vinci tool. I’m not able to offer you any medical advice, but I do think visiting an osteopath would be a good idea for what you are describing. I wish you all the very best.

  • sahil

    January 31, 2014 at 2:43 am

    hey.i’ll be much obliged if ull help me out.I have a vet very hard left side lower back,and with this my right side neck is really stiff,its been more than 3 year with this problem.it causes me pain in lower back(due to stiff lower left side back),and a lot of discomfort in pelvic region.I also feel a tightness in between my right chest and right shoulder blade.it is felt more when i breath.I went to many doctors but there was no relief so i left it on time,but still after more than 3 year its not recovering.Now i feel like my plevis keeps on tilting and its not neutral everytime.I tried every streches and exercises regarding pelvic tilts,but its still persists.I don’t know what causing this ,may be i am missing something to work out on.and now everytime when i raise my leg while standing i hear a snaaping and poping sound which was never there before.age-19 years.Hoping a reply!!

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      January 31, 2014 at 6:38 am

      Hi Sahil, I’m not able to offer any medical advice. If you haven’t already seen an osteopath, that would be a good next step. I wish you all the best.

  • Laura

    February 28, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Are you sure you don’t have the two pictures mixed up for correction for a tucked pelvis and excessive anterior tilt?

    For the tucked pelvis, it seems like putting a towel under the sitting bones would elevate the pubic bone even further up than the hip bones.

    For the excessive anterior tilt, if you put the towel under the lumbar curve you are making the ASIS rise higher than the pubic bone.

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      March 1, 2014 at 6:25 am

      Hi Laura, I can see why it would seem that the pictures might be reversed. Using the towel brings the floor to the body. If someone’s pelvis is tucked, their tailbone is tilted more toward the ceiling, so the floor is going to feel pretty far away when they try to find neutral pelvis. By placing the towel under their sitting bones, it brings the floor closer to their body. It will be easier for them to drop their tailbone heavy on the towel. This way, they won’t have such a big correction to hold with force. Once they’ve gotten used to finding the towel with their tailbone and can easily maintain a more neutral pelvis with the towel, the next step is to take the towel away. Using the towel under the lower back for an anterior tilt of the pelvis is the same idea, except now the towel is being used to bring the floor to the lower back. With the tactile cue from the towel, the back muscles are able to relax much more easily. Thanks for your question!

  • Shireen

    June 9, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Is it possible to have tucked and anterior tilted pelvis. Mine seems to be both. Unless it is my tailbone that is locked in a neutral pelvis.

    Can you please suggest how I can correct a tucked tail in a neutral pelvis while walking or standing? I lose my tucked pelvis when I stand but feel I am leaning too far back and falling into an overly anterior pelvis, on the floor though my back goes flat. I have had injuries (crushed coccyx, L1 -!: l4 plus broken ribss) in the area it is like my tail is hiding from when you it used to be injured (12 years ago with osteoporotic fractures).

    Many thanks
    Shireen

  • SG

    June 20, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Hi Sydney
    Great article and great picture it really helped make sense of everything.
    I have had a bit of lower back pain for very long time . only realised recently that my wallet in the back pocket might be causing it. With that removed whenever I sit , I feel comfort but have a nagging feeling that I need to do something similar to cracking knuckles on my lower backbone.
    I will chk up on the tilts as per your article as well. Thanks for time you put in for this well with article.

    Cheers !

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      June 20, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Hi SG, it’s amazing the impact the little things we don’t think about, like a wallet in the back pocket, can have on our body. Glad you enjoyed the article! Thank you for your feedback!

  • Mark

    July 28, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Great article Sydney , I am a little confused when it comes to posterior and pelvic tilt.

    I find I am anteriorily tilted when standing and then tucked when seated. “could be more a hips issue”

    would you suggest the pillow under the lower back exercise or under the tailbone. I kind of agree with Henry’s earlier comment that the pillow under the tailbone mechanically appears to push the tailbone/glutes upwards therefore letting the lower back sag producing a more rounded tucked pelvic floor.

    but then again I could be looking at it the total wrong way. Would appreciate some insight :)

    thanks

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      July 28, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Hi Mark, tight hip flexors could give you an anterior tilt when standing and a posterior tuck when sitting down. But, if your lower back is more flattened into the floor when you’re lying on your back I would try the towel just barely under your sit bones. I know from the outside it looks as though this would flatten your back further into the floor, but if you try it, I think you’ll find it feels quite the opposite. When you allow your sit bones and tailbone to drop onto the towel, it will help “lighten”your lower back from the floor. Thanks for your question. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  • Mark

    July 28, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Sydney , thanks for the quick response. It turned out I had quite a large space under my back when lying down so I went with the towel under the back.

    It was very subtle but I did find it somewhat relaxing and my tight lower back did relax out of extension.

    was very handy as I find I’m stuck in lumbar extension most of the time and pretty much can’t go into flexion without strong muscular effort.

    thanks for the article , I was getting tired of fighting anterior tilt by trying to strengthen opposing muscles :)

    • Sydney [Pilates Tonic]

      July 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      Hi Mark, glad to hear placing a towel under your low back helped to relax your back. Your breath is one of the most powerful tools for releasing your back and getting more lasting flexibility back into your spine. I think you might find the exercise in this video practiced over time helpful too. Thanks for your feedback! :)

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