Ever wondered why your Chiropractor keeps prescribing you core strengthening exercises to fix your lower back pain?
In today’s blog we will discuss what muscles
make up the core, how to engage your core muscles and what the relationship
between core strength and back pain is. We will also demonstrate examples of
exercises which engage your core muscles.
Which muscles make up the core?
When most think about “their core” they think
of their abs or six-pack region just below the ribs. While the abdominals are
an important part of the core, we must also consider other muscles too. The
rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, multifidus,
diaphragm and pelvic floor are also considered important core muscles. Without
the stabilization provided by the core muscle system that surrounds the spine,
it would not be able to withstand the forces exerted by the lower limbs.
Think of the core like a can of coke. The
cylindrical component comprising of the transverse abdominis at the front and
sides, the multifidi at the back. The can of coke is sealed top and bottom by
the diaphragm and the pelvic floor respectively.
All these muscle groups work together as a
cohesive whole to stabilize the pelvis and lumbar spine when they are placed
under stress by activities such a bending, twisting, lifting, stretching,
walking, running and jumping.
It is important to realise that activation of
the core muscles is not the same as abdominal strengthening. That is – it is
possible to have strong abdominals but a weak core. Activation of the core is
not something that most people do consciously, therefore it is important to
learn how to effectively co-contract these muscles while performing your
How to engage core muscles?
Despite appearances and the assured nature of the facts presented by some
teachers/anatomical texts, it is not possible to totally isolate one or the
other muscle in any particular movement. However, to feel the activation of the
transverse abdominis place two fingers on the bony prominences on the front
your hip bones, move your hands an inch towards your belly button and down an
inch towards your toes.
You should now be directly over the transverse
abdominus muscle. When you contract your core correctly, you should feel a
gentle tightening under your fingers – it should feel as if you took in your
belt one extra notch. If the muscles under your fingers start to “dome”, then
you are contracting too much and recruiting larger muscle groups. It is important
to learn how to engage your core in various positions as well as during
activity in order to provide maximal spinal stability.
the muscles around the lower back are weak, your body is forced to rely on more
passive structures like ligaments, intervertebral discs and bones for
stability. It is when these structures are overloaded pain can ensue.”
What is the relationship between core
strength and back pain?
The concept here is that if the muscles around
the lower back are weak, your body is forced to rely on more passive structures
like ligaments, intervertebral discs and bones for stability. It is when these
structures are overloaded pain can ensue. However, core strengthening is more
than just getting a six pack, developing a strong core will decrease the
likelihood of injuries and can also teach you proper spinal alignment.
Core exercises to avoid low back pain:
1. Weighted Russian twists
In a seated V position on a table or mat with a weight or medicine ball in your
hands, twist your body to one side and then the other while maintain V
position. Repeat 10-20 x.
2. Prone Bridging on Elbows
Lie on your stomach on a table or mat with your forearms/elbows on the
table/mat; rise up so that you are resting on your forearms and toes; maintain
abdominal draw in; your back should be completely straight; hold this position
for 15 sec – 1 min. Progress in increments of 15 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times.
3. Hanging leg lift using elbow support
When using the elbow support
leg lift machine, your legs should be straight down with your pelvis
rolled slightly backwards. This will be your starting position. As you
contract your abs Raise your legs, ensuring you keep them
straight, until the torso makes a 90-degree angle with the legs.
Repeat this 5-10 times.
Core activation and spinal stability are things we all take from granted. They play a huge factor in your everyday life and functions. With a few lifestyle adjustments, regular exercise and visits to your chiropractor, you can greatly improve in balance, strength and core stability. Not only will your posture improve, and you will feel better, but those tasks that seemed to be “too much” will suddenly become much easier. Start at the core and ignite change by taking care of your own body, it is the very least you owe yourself!
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