Core Stability 101

When you hear the word "core" or "core stability" you may get a lot of different definitions and explanations. It’s not uncommon for folks to think first of the muscles that are more superficial in our abdominal region, but the core is made up of so much more! In order to take on loads and protect our spine, “stability” is needed. This stability in the spine comes from both passive structures, such as the ligaments and discs, as well as active stability which comes from muscles. The core muscles are made up of many layers--both local muscles which are deep and provide segmental stability to each of our vertebrae as well as global muscles which are superficial and create torque to allow for trunk motion. Even though the deep muscles are small relatively speaking, they are just as important as the bigger, global muscles. These deep muscles are called the transverse abdominus, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and multifidi muscles. (You may want to google an image to get a visual of these muscles together) Often, clients are surprised to hear about the diaphragm and pelvic floor as part of the core. The diaphragm is the dome shaped muscle that lives under the rib cage that serves an important role in breathing. Believe it or not, our breath is closely related to the efficiency of our core muscles.


Let's talk efficiency. "So...since the local muscles are very small and deep and if I workout regularly lifting heavy weights, I don’t have to pay attention to this right?" Well, maybe...maybe not. Whether you are someone who is minimally active or you are an elite level athlete, it is beneficial to have all your muscles working efficiently. Efficiency has to do with good performance and energy conservation. Working efficiently can have to do with the timing of muscles, positions, how muscles are coordinating together and may have to do with quality. It’s also important to note that the global muscles of the core may have good power, strength, and endurance but the local muscles may have poor coordination, timing, or strategies with how they are working.


The deeper core muscles are also unique in some ways. For instance, the transverse abdominus muscle contracts right after the brain decides that movement is going to occur. That means it contracts on its own right before you move...that’s kind of amazing. These deep muscles have also been found to become inhibited after a bout of low back pain. Not only can they become shut down with an episode of pain, studies have shown that they need intentional exercise to restore their function and activity. That’s a pretty big deal considering that 80% of us may experience a low back pain episode in our lifetime.


In order to optimize movement, all of our body parts need to be working together to contribute positively to movement and help distribute load. There are other components besides the core that influence the low back. The thoracic spine (upper and mid back) as well as the hip joints also affect the low back. When a person has enough mobility in both the thoracic spine and the hips AND uses this mobility appropriately when they move, this minimizes unwanted stress and strain into the low back in both everyday activities as well as exercise and sports.


Here are some indicators that may suggest it’s worth having a practitioner evaluate that your core, hips, and spine are properly working together:

  1. Acute or recurring episodes of low back pain

  2. Females with feelings of pelvic heaviness or pressure during everyday activities, running, or exercise

  3. Post partum mommas (with and without diastasis recti)

  4. Hip pain (hips often times need adequate mobility and stability)

  5. After bending down to the floor, you use your hands on your thighs to return back to standing

  6. Dancers with pain with arabesque, developpé, or cambre back

  7. You have been told you are hypermobile from a healthcare provider


This is by no means an all inclusive list. This list highlights how the core, spine mobility, and hip mobility/stability integrate with each other quite a bit with everyday movement and recreational activities so maximizing how they are working together is key.


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*This is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for individual medical or health advice.*


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DISCLAIMER: Please note the information on this website and blog is for informational purposes only and should not be mistaken for individual health or medical advice.  For individual advice and before trying exercise, please see your local healthcare provider.