4 things you must know about your core muscles is the 2nd in our series on how your spine works. In this series, we have been discussing how the spine really works. In the last post, we discussed the basic functions and that the spine is a vertical column comprised of 24 movable segments. Each segment is classed as a lever, therefore the whole structure can be seen as a level system. In this post, we will be discussing 4 things you much know about your core muscles.
When I speak to most people about core muscles and core exercises, the first thing everyone thinks of is a six pack. While the abdominal muscles are included in the core muscle group, we are not just talking about them. Conversely, someone can have a six pack of abs and still have a weak core.
Here are the top 4 things you must know about your core muscles:
- Your core muscles actually restrict movement, not create it.
- They stabilise the spine, providing it with strength and stability.
- When contracted, they increase the internal pressure of the abdomen.
- A strong core doesn’t prevent a bad back, muscle endurance does!
The core muscles are made up of a large group of muscles that surround the abdomen, lumbar spine and pelvis. They include such muscles of the pelvis floor, the diaphragm and deep internal muscles that attach to the lumbar spine segments.
The main principle that must be understood regarding spinal health is: your core muscles actually restrict movement1. This underpins all aspects of back pain. The shape of your spine and spinal alignment that was addressed in our last post, coupled with this principle of core strength and stiffness are two of the most important aspects of spinal health. In biomechanics, structure dictates function. The function of a joint is determined by its structure. The function of a joint can be altered by a change in structure. For example, an injury to the spine, can cause altered and faulty muscle contractions and muscle weakness. This means the joint cannot function correctly leading to additional tissue damage1. However, the basic function of the joint hasn’t changed, because the structure itself hasn’t changed (i.e. the orientation of the joint surfaces). Therefore treatment and rehabilitating the injured muscle and group of surrounding muscles is key to resolving pain and preventing future injury/reinjury1. However, if one or both of the bones that form the joint were to become fractured, this may subsequently alter the shape of the joint, thus altering how it functions.
When contracted, the core muscles increase your internal abdominal and spinal pressure. This increased internal pressure needs to be contained within the abdomen by the same muscles that generate it. If any one of these muscles is weakened, the pressure is lost through the weakest point. This is why the pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm are included in the core muscle group because weakness into these muscles allows this pressure to escape (either up or down) causing a breakdown of the whole system. This leads to increased loading of the ligaments, bones, joints and discs of the spine which leads to back pain (either acute or chronic) depending on how long it has been weak for and the load applied at any one moment. Therefore pelvic floor exercises and simple breathing exercises have been shown to be effective and appropriate to include in exercise plans for patients with low back pain2–4.
When you perform activities of daily living, such as walking, getting dressed, having a shower, picking up your children, and even eating, your core muscles are firing the entire time5. If they didn’t, you would have continuous back pain because of the stresses and loads placed upon your spine would overwhelm the tissues. This is why a strong core doesn’t prevent a bad back, the endurance of these muscles is the most important factor1. These muscles need to perform all day, every day, which requires good endurance. Strength, being a property of force generation is important, but the amount of force these muscles can generate is not as important as how many times they can contract each day.
At Spriggs Chiropractic, we are focused on educating our patients and the public in general about chiropractic and its place in spinal health and disease. We offer tailored exercise rehabilitation to each patient who attends the clinic to help resolve their pain and prevent it from recurring. Give us a call and make an appointment today to find out how we can help.
Click here to watch a video of Professor Stuart McGill demonstrating some core stability exercises that help prevent back pain by resisting movement.
Next in our series , we will be discussing the role of the sacroiliac joint. This is a somewhat controversial topic within the physical therapy and chiropractic world due to arguments about what this joint is and how is works! I will be touching on some of these controversial issues so don’t miss it!!
- McGill S. Low Back Rehabilitation. In: Low Back Disorders. 3rd ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics; 2017:215-325.
- Ghaderi F, Mohammadi K, Amir Sasan R, Niko Kheslat S, Oskouei AE. Effects of Stabilization Exercises Focusing on Pelvic Floor Muscles on Low Back Pain and Urinary Incontinence in Women. Urology. 2016;93:50-54. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2016.03.034.
- O’Sullivan PB, Beales DJ. Changes in pelvic floor and diaphragm kinematics and respiratory patterns in subjects with sacroiliac joint pain following a motor learning intervention: a case series. Man Ther. 2007;12(3):209-218. doi:10.1016/j.math.2006.06.006.
- Kolar P, Sulc J, Kyncl M, et al. Postural function of the diaphragm in persons with and without chronic low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):352-362. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.3830.
- McGill S. Enhancing Lumbar Spine Stability. In: Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. 6th ed. Gravenhurst: Backfitpro; 2017:113-127.