27 Sep “Core” muscles and prevention of Back Pain
What are the Core muscles? Why are they so talked about?
The ‘core’ muscles refer to muscles of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (our trunk muscles). They connect our upper body with the lower body and are responsible for assisting functional movement. However they are perhaps the most misused and overused term in physical therapy and fitness! So many people assume they are the sit-up muscles, they are so much more!
I’m going to call them “deep stabilisers of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (trunk)“. Several authors have proposed a more functional perspective; to describe the core as the foundation of the “kinetic chain” (linking elements in the body), responsible for helping the transfer of power and motion between the lower and upper limbs for gross motor tasks of daily living, exercise, and sport.
The deep stabilisers of your trunk basically comprise of 4 postural muscles listed below;
- The deep abdominals – transversus abdominus and obliques (portions); there are 4 layers of abdominals and the sit-up layer is the most superficial.
- The pelvic floor (holds organs up)
- Deep back muscles close to the spine (link one bone to the next and support the discs)
- The diaphragm muscle (breathing).
The trunk also includes muscles such as back extensors, hip flexors (psoas), gluteals, superficial abdominal muscles (rectus and obliques), and latissimus dorsi “lats”. These are all extremely important and contribute to stability, but these are some of the muscles that tend to overwork, get tight, and ultimately painful.
To test whether your core is functioning well, stand on one leg and do a small single leg squat. Can you balance easily? Does your knee wobbles inward or your hip drop outward? Do you tuck and squeeze your butt muscles? Does your torso tilt to one side? If any of these occurred, chances are your core is not activating as well as it could be.
What is the purpose of those deep stabilisers?
They help transfer forces between the upper and lower body, and contain all your abdominal organs. Think of it like a barrel with a bottom, a top, and a ‘wrap-around’ muscle with a ‘zip’ at the back. There is some argument to say they protect the lumbar spine from excessive forces that can damage discs or joints.
How does strengthening the deep stabilisers help my posture and prevent back pain?
For starters, we don’t strengthen the deep stabilisers like other power muscles. These are ‘slow twitch’ endurance muscles. They are designed to be able to stay on at a low level for long periods of time without fatiguing.
They are Postural muscles, rich in blood vessels which means they can stay turned on, at a low level, for long hours at a time.Power muscles, on the other hand, are designed to contract fast and strongly, they run out of fuel faster and get sore if they are recruited for hours. If we try to ‘strengthen’ the traditional way, we overdo it and instead we recruit larger more superficial muscles and this is where muscular imbalances begin, and ultimately pain.
How do I use my core muscles properly?
If you want to recruit deep stabilisers use brain power. ‘Connect’ the muscles mindfully, feeling them working in our body. This is Neuromuscular retraining and needs to be taught by an experienced physio. Core stability necessitates instantaneous changes by the nervous system to provide the right combination and intensity of muscle recruitment for stability as well as mobility. It is important to know the function of the anatomy when developing a core stabilisation training program for injury prevention.
No muscle works in isolation – these muscles connect to fascia that links us from head to toe (another blog coming soon)
“It is the finer movements in your body, the body awareness that makes a difference. This is where I have found Physio-Yoga to be so useful”.
Here at the Physio Yoga Clinic in Crows Nest, we teach almost every client how to activate their deep stabilisers, for both treatment and prevention of injury.
Everyone is an individual. This information is intended for general interest. If you have a concern please get assessed by a Physio with knowledge of muscular movement patterns.