The Importance of Stabilizing Your Core
By Brooke Smith, DPT, PT
AzOPT Goodyear Clinic Manager
You have some pain and your doctor tells you to strengthen or stabilize your core. What does strengthening your core even mean? Where do you start with strengthening/stabilizing your core? And how can you strengthen your core without causing more pain? Let’s dive in.
What exactly is your core?
The core consists of multiple different muscle groups. These include your abdominal muscles (obliques, transverse abdominus, and rectus abdominus), diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles. The core also requires assistance from more global mobility muscles like the gluteal, hip adductors, rectus femoris (part of quad muscles), iliopsoas (hip flexors), trapezius, lats, deltoid and pec muscles. These muscle groups act to help transfer load and force between the extremities (arms/legs) and the core.
The core is like a corset that stabilizes the spine with head, arm, or leg movements. If you lose this stability, other joints in and around the area will take on that extra force. For a short period of time these compensation patterns are not detrimental. However, over longer, more repetitive periods it can lead to pain and injury.
Weakness is not the only cause of an inefficient core. Poor activation of the muscles can also lead to injuries. Research shows poor activation as being a more prominent cause of future pain compared to weakness. One study reported that in patients with low back pain there is delayed activation of the stabilizing muscles with all upper and lower extremity movements.
Therefore, core stabilization doesn’t just involve strengthening but also proper activation and timing of muscles. Providing your body with the most effective stability when doing normal activities throughout the day or any exercise is essential. Additionally, proper warm ups help activate the core muscles and stabilizers prior to exercise or activities. This helps prevent any future pain or injuries.
Some good core activities we commonly used for activation in physical therapy are diaphragmatic breathing, pelvic floor activation, and dead bugs. Once activation becomes easier and quicker, we progress to utilizing these stability techniques by transferring them to more functional movement patterns. This includes squats (standing up and sitting in chair), lunges, deadlifts (picking items up from floor), and overhead movements (putting away groceries overhead, reaching into cabinets, shelving). All of these movements are used constantly throughout the day.
It’s important to note there is no single exercise that will fix or strengthen your core and reduce pain levels. It involves a series of activation techniques and functional movement patterns to truly activate and strengthen the neuromuscular system involving the core. This, plus high repetitions, are required to create proper movement patterns and prevent future compensation patterns from forming.
A licensed physical therapist can further explain the importance of stabilizing your core when you schedule an evaluation. Consult with your AzOPT physical therapists on a personalized treatment plan to stabilize and properly activate your core.