28 Aug Core Strength and the Spine – a Close Relationship
Have you ever been told that you need to strengthen your core? The core is actually key to good spinal health! As a part of my practice philosophy, I place priority on proactive care, with your core being a major factor when it comes to how happy (or sad) your spine may be feeling!
With what feels to be a very long winter, it’s sometimes hard to find the motivation to exercise but strengthening the core has so many benefits that can be felt all year round!
So what exactly is the ‘core’? The core comprises many of the muscles in the mid torso; including the transverse abdominus, pelvic floor, diaphragm, erector spinae, multifidus, and the obliques. The latissimus dorsi and other back muscles also play a role. The core is important for stabilisation, especially in the hips and shoulders, whilst supporting the movement of our arms and legs.
It’s more than looking good
If our core is weak, we put extra pressure on other muscles to support us, like those in our back. We also put extra pressure on ligaments, spinal discs and bones. Ultimately, our body isn’t moving the best it can, which is bad news for our spine. In many cases, all these other elements are compensating for our lack of core strength, and the extra stress can lead to pain, commonly in the lower back. Having a strong core also helps to prevent injury as our body can deal with stress and force appropriately!
What’s the relationship with back pain?
A weakened core may not cause back pain by itself; but it can be a major contributing factor. Think of your body like a house. If we build a house on a weak foundation, you’ll start to see cracks appear, walls become uneven and bits might even break. Likewise, if you start adding force to a body without a strong foundation (aka your core), you’ll start to see cracks. These might appear as pain, imbalance in your muscles, poor posture or even injury. If a strong foundation is supporting the spine, you’re more likely to move better and be less prone to pain and injury.
How to improve core strength
Don’t fret! You don’t have to put yourself through super intense core workouts. The core muscles are suited towards endurance, not maximum strength; so go at your own pace! Here are three simple exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home to improve core strength. These exercises can be enhanced by completing more repetitions of the motions or increasing the weight of the object used to do weighted carries. But first, you need to learn how to ‘switch on your core’:
Engaging your core
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your fingertips just inside your hip bones. Now imagine that your pubic bone and your belly button are drawing together and meeting in the middle while keeping your hips and back still. Many describe this motion as ‘draw your belly button down to the floor’, however, some people interpret this as ‘tense your abs’ which we are trying to avoid. While activating the core, we are trying to switch on the deep muscles that lie below your ‘six pack’ aka ‘Rectus Abdominus’. The feeling should be subtle and for most of us, a new one (as we don’t practice this enough!). Try switching on your core and holding it for five breaths. Repeat this exercise daily and then try it whilst standing, doing your dishes or sitting at your desk. It’s a healthy habit to form!
- Weighted carries: Try walking in a straight line with two shopping bags weighed down with books (or other household items) of a similar weight in either hand. Ensure that you have an upright posture and repeat this for a few laps of the lounge room (depending on how big your house is, of course!)
- Planks: Lie face-down on a towel or yoga mat with your feet close together. Bring your wrists to the line of your shoulders and find a ‘push up’ position with your body. Your body should make a straight line from your head to your heels, or from your head to your knees if doing a kneeling version (a great alternative for those who need more support). Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat daily!
- Scissors: Lie on your back on a yoga mat or towel and lift both legs so that they are pointing towards the sky at 12 o’clock. Press your lower back into your mat, imprinting your spine and engage your core. Lower one leg until it is almost touching the floor (or as low as you can without arching your back). Hold it for one second and gently raise it back up. Lower the other leg and repeat for five times on each leg. If a straight scissor is too challenging, try the same motion with bent knees! You can begin in tabletop position and tap each toe individually to the ground. Try this daily.
Abdominal exercises shouldn’t be just for those wanting six packs. After all, the core is one of the most important muscle groups for supporting the spine. It is important to strengthen the core, not only for spinal health, but for general mobility and proactive care. Ask us about your core during your next visit. We’d be more than happy to run you through these exercises and get your form on point!