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Why is core strength important to maintaining a healthy spine?

August 10th, 2021 by
Category: Dr. Jefferson Gutierrez Health & Wellbeing Spinal Health

When people think of the core muscles, they often think of a set of six pack abs, but this is not the case. The core of the human body is the region of your lower abdomen that comprises your abdominal muscles, as well as the posterior abdominal muscles. Each lining of the core has multiple layers of muscles. These muscles include pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae and the diaphragm.

infographic highlighting where the core muscles are located on the front and back of the body

What does a strong core look like?

An incredible display of a strong core is seen in athletes such as gymnasts. Gymnastic events such as the pommel horse and still rings for male gymnasts and the balance beam and the uneven parallel bars for female gymnasts require an incredible amount of core strength. 

Although not all of us are athletes, we can still develop a strong core. To test your core stability, there are 3 functional tests that you can do to find out if you have good core strength and stability – 

1. The side bridge

side bridge core exercise infographic

2. The flexor endurance test

flexor endurance core exercise infographic

3. The extensor endurance test

extensor endurance core exercise infographic

Inability to hold these positions in correct form can indicate a weak core if held under for 45 seconds. 

Signs of a weak core

Some signs of a weak core may include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Anterior pelvic tilt posture
  • Poor balance
  • Slouching or hunching posture
  • Inability to perform the above three functional tests: the side bridge, the flexor endurance test and the extensor endurance test

Implications of a weak core

Having a weak core can cause back pain as there is no support and stability coming from the lower portion on the abdomen. This can lead to poor posture, which can cause stress to the spine that can lead to early onset degeneration to the spine.

Developing a strong core is important in maintaining a healthy spine as it helps with posture and balance for the body as well as prevent injuries to the spine.

Why is core strength important to maintaining a healthy spine?

When the body adapts to poor posture, it causes stress to the joints in the spine, particularly in the lower back if your core is weak. A common posture that is seen is an anterior pelvic tilt which is caused by the rotation of the pelvis forward due to a combination of tight and weak muscles. The tight muscle groups involve the hip flexors, the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum which are muscles that attach to the spine. The weak muscle groups involve the gluteal muscles and abdominal musculature. 

When this happens, it creates an increased curvature of the lumbar spine adding stress to those joints as well as the sacroiliac joints which can present as lower back pain (Paungmali et al, 2017). 

Core strength not only helps to prevent back pain, but it may also prevent the risk of injury from playing sports to doing normal daily activities. With a weak core, repetitive lifting, bending, twisting, overreaching and standing/sitting for long periods may cause injury to the spine and its joints. This can be classified as overuse injuries as the combination of the repetitive movements and poor core stability increases the risks of these injuries (Lopes et al, 2021).

Exercises to improve core strength

Exercises you can do to help improve core strength include:

  • Abdominal hollowing – this exercise can help with activating the deeper abdominal muscles to help with core stability
  • Glute bridges – this exercise can help with activating and strengthening the gluteal muscles to help core stability
  • Hip flexors stretch – this stretch will help with the tightness of the hip flexors which can be responsible for tilting the hips forward
  • Lower back stretches – low back stretches can help with the tightness of the lower back

Progressive exercises you can try include:

  • 3 point stance
  • Single leg bridge

Core strength is important to maintaining a healthy spine as it helps with the body’s posture. Performing movements such as repetitive lifting, bending, reaching, twisting as well as standing/sitting for long periods of time can cause stress to the spine so it’s important to have good core strength to prevent injuries from occurring. When the body has good core strength and good posture, it puts the spine in a healthy position where the body is able to function at its best.

Sources

  • Paungmali, A., Joseph, L. H., Sitilertpisan, P., Pirunsan, U., & Uthaikhup, S. (2017). Lumbopelvic Core Stabilization Exercise and Pain Modulation Among Individuals with Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain. Pain practice : the official journal of World Institute of Pain, 17(8), 1008–1014. https://doi.org/10.1111/papr.12552
  • Lopes, T., Simic, M., Chia, L., Terra, B. S., Alves, D. S., Bunn, P., Rodrigues, A. I., Lima, M., Ribeiro, F. M., Vilão, P., & Pappas, E. (2021). Trunk endurance, posterior chain flexibility, and previous history of musculoskeletal pain predict overuse low back and lower extremity injury: a prospective cohort study of 545 Navy Cadets. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 24(6), 555–560. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2020.11.020

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