Your ‘core’ is a complex series of muscles, extending far beyond your abs, including everything besides your arms and legs. It is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. The core is comprised of several muscle groups including the local muscles (lumbar multifidus & transverse abdominis), global muscles (erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, external and internal oblique abdominis, rectus abdominis), and other muscle groups such as the psoas major, pelvic floor musculature and the diaphragm. Specifically, the transverse abdominis performs an anticipatory contraction prior to extremity movement in order to contribute to core stabilization.
The function of the core is to stabilize the spine from potentially harmful forces and to create and transfer forces through the body. Think of your core like the foundation of a house. A nice strong foundation lets you build a stable house. A nice strong core lets you absorb and create forces for meaningful movement. Poor core strength can contribute to injuries ranging from your ankle all the way up to your hips, back, shoulders, and neck.
Signs of a Weak Core
These common symptoms can be signs that you have a weak core:
- Lower Back Pain – Since the core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body, muscular weakness can be a sign of a weak core.
- Poor Posture – The core muscles hold your spine and pelvis in place. If these muscles are weak, your body will be unstable, causing an inability to stand up straight or sit properly.
- Bad Balance – Since your core muscles stabilize your entire body, a weak core will affect your ability to balance.
- General Weakness – Since the core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body, muscular weakness can be a sign of a weak core.
- Inability to Hollow Your Stomach – The inability to hollow your stomach is another potential sign of core weakness. Can you do it? Take a natural breath and pully your bellybutton toward your spine. Hold this position for a count of 10 and then release. If you were unable to hold this position for the full count, you may have a weak core.
John Duncombe, PT, DPT, OCS, CIMT, CSCS, GCS, gives us some tips to help prevent core weakness and injury:
- Warm Up – Perform at least 5 minutes of cardiovascular activity or dynamic total body warm up activity prior to initiating core exercises. Dynamic total body warm up activities may include jumping rope, jumping jacks, dynamic squats and lunges, inchworms, walking knees to chest, hip rotations, and gluteal kicks. See a trained ATI clinician for assistance with these exercises if needed.
- Stay Tall – Make sure to try to keep your chest up, shoulders stacked on top of your hips, and stomach muscles turned ‘On’ as often as possible. No matter the activity, sitting/standing/walking, this position helps to alleviate unneeded stress to your spine and specifically your lower back.
- Isometrics – Stronger muscles provide greater stability to the spine to help establish and maintain proper body mechanics during prolonged activities and lifting. Common examples include various plank positions, the Pallof Press, and abdominal bracing.
- Active Range of Motion – Maintaining good flexibility in your hips (primarily your hamstrings, hip flexors, and piriformis) as well as your lower back will allow for your pelvis and lumbar spine to move freely during your day.
John Duncombe, PT, DPT, OCS, CIMT, CSCS, GCS, also gives us some tips to help rehabilitate the core:
- A Strong Trunk Leads to a Healthy Spine – Work on strengthening both the local and global muscles (see above for which ones these are) to help maintain proper body positions as you move throughout your day.
- Be Balanced – Work on dynamic flexibility exercises for your Hips and Shoulders. Lacking mobility in your extremities will put more stress on your trunk to complete dynamic movements and lifts while at home or work.
- Suck in the Gut – Sitting/standing tall and slightly sucking in your lower abdominals (just below your belt or waistline) towards your spine will activate not only your inner core, but all necessary trunk muscles for optimal functional movements.
- Check your Chair – Many of us sit for the majority of our day. In our car to/from work, while at work, relaxing at home, etc. Make sure your spine is upright and you have good support for your back. Consider a small pillow or rolled up towel in the small of your back to remind you to not slouch and stress your lower back.
When weighing your treatment options for injury rehabilitation, consider physical therapy. Physical therapy offers a wide variety of treatment options including strengthening, stretching, and sustainable home exercise programs. Stop in or call any ATI location for a complimentary injury screen or to learn more about how physical therapy can help you overcome your pain.