BY ASHLEY NEWTON, PT, DPT
Neutral pelvis is the state when the pubic bone and the sacrum are parallel to the floor. The pelvis is not tipped forward nor backward and the heads of the femurs are centered in their sockets. When our hips and pelvis are at neutral, we are distributing forces evenly across our pelvis. Meaning, we are not excessively loading in the back and sacrum and the muscles of the core and hips are balanced to keep us upright. To truly be in neutral, however, means that the head is stacked over the ribs and pelvis so that if we were to draw a line straight down the side of the body, that line would intersect the earlobe, the acromion of the shoulder, and greater trochanter of the femur. Now that’s all well and good, but why does being neutral matter?
If our pelvis and trunk are neutral, it means that our body is able to evenly distribute loads across the trunk. Load refers to how our bodies stabilize against gravity as well as how we interact with our environment – everything from how we pick up our toothbrush to pushing a lawnmower. The muscles of our trunk that stabilize the spine have anticipatory stability – meaning that they contract prior to a pre-planned movement to stabilize us in space. However, when we are not at neutral, these muscle fibers are not in their optimal position – they are either shortened or over-lengthened and thus have difficulty generating force to stabilize us. As a result, the body compensates. It finds other ways to stabilize us that may work in the moment but turn out to be harmful long term. Think about a time when you sat to take an exam or write an essay in school. Over time, we get more slumped over in the chair and wind up holding up our head with our hand. When we eventually stand up, our back is stiff and we have neck pain. Our body has adapted to stiffen other muscles to keep us stable as we resorted to a more and more slumped posture. This is an example of muscles getting overloaded to compensate for the core!
Now, does this mean that we have to walk around constantly correcting our posture? Yes and no. I do not think it is helpful for folks to be constantly walking around drawing their belly buttons toward their spines and tucking their tail bones. These habits abnormally pressurize the muscles of the pelvic floor which can lead to problems such as urinary leakage and prolapse. Rather, I think folks should work from the ground up when it comes to being in neutral. So, stand up and try this exercise below to see if you can connect with your body and find neutral.
- Ground down through the four corners of the feet. Can you feel the big toe, pinky, inner heel and outer heel all make contact with the earth.
- Shift the weight forward and back on the feet. Can you end in a place where your weight is through the middle of your feet.
- Place one hand on the sacrum and the other on the pubic bone. You should be able to draw a straight line between your two hands that is parallel to the floor
- Take your hands and make an upside down “V” where your ribs meet in the middle. Is this angle 90 degrees?
- If less than 90 degrees, soften your belly and think about making space between the top of the hip and rib.
- If greater than 90 degrees, draw the ribs backward and make space between the bottom of the rib and the hip
- Drop the shoulders away from the ears
- Interlace the hands at the base of the skull and draw your head back into your hands as you get tall.
- Think about growing through the crown of the head as you ground down through your feet.