Core stability is important for our bodies to maintain balance in relation to our weight (load) around the spine, the pelvis and the kinetic chain. The spine and abdominal viscera are surrounded by a cluster of muscles known as the core muscles. They all work together to ensure that the trunk of the body is stable. Core stability and motor control are crucial to athletes for movement as well as to prevent injury.
Physiotherapists can help you with a program and techniques to strengthen your core muscles and also prevent and treat injury. You have to start with moderate activities in order to warm up at the beginning of your program. An example is Cat and camel. Then you should learn to stimulate the abdominal wall muscles. This is challenging if you are in pain. You can use the brace; or the “big three”, i.e. the Bird Dog, the side plank and the Curl up. You should lie supinely (on your back) or be on all fours when you do these exercises. Remember to always focus on the curve on your lower back, which is the position of strength and low burden on your spine. As you get stronger you can move on to different positions like sitting and standing. You can also modify the activities with the aim to increase the simultaneous work of your muscles. You should ensure that the spine is not loaded, while you maximise on the activities of your muscles. You can continue to move on to more activities and postures that will have more effect, especially for sporting purposes. The aim is to improve strength, power and, more so, endurance.
You should at all times try to avoid overloading the spine as this increases the risk of injury. A few “traditional” exercises are guilty of this maximising of load on the spine:
Who benefits most from core strengthening exercises? Research has shown that some groups benefit more from core exercises than others, and also that some factors have a bearing on the effectiveness of exercises. Consider the following factors:
People with chronic lower back pain and sacroiliac joint pain can benefit from core strengthening, as they show signs of weakness as well as poor muscle recruitment. Individuals with lower back pain also show signs of lethargy, decreased cross section and intrusion of fat in their paraspinal muscles. Athletes, and more so female athletes, can also have core weakness. If core weakness is present, athletes can risk getting anterior cruciate ligament injury. Core exercises can help to lessen the risks.
Core strengthening exercises are helpful to treat and prevent spinal disorders, but some studies have found that there may be other superior regimes that can be as effective, or can be used at the same time. Other therapeutic exercise regimes can be as effective as core strengthening exercises in restoring muscles that have degenerated through pain or injury.