Have you ever sneezed and felt your back ‘go out’?
Do you find it difficult to stand back up after bending forward? Does your back ‘click’ when you do normal movements, or do you feel a sharp ‘twinge’ in your back from time to time?
These are all signs of weak core muscles. So that begs the question: what are core muscles? And, before we even get into that… Where is your core??
Well, the most general definition of your core is your body – minus your arms and legs. Your core muscles are the muscles that keep you stable and upright, and help you to bend, twist and flex. There are many core muscles in the human body. But the ones I’d like to focus on are the deep muscles; the ones that stabilise your spine. Why focus on these muscles? Because research shows that these muscles become ineffective, or ‘switch off’, when we have back injuries or pains. If not used, our spines will weaken and this starts the whole cycle of back injury again.
Names and functions of the deep core muscles:
There are three main deep core muscles: the Transverse Abdominis (TA), Multifidus (MF) and pelvic floor muscles (PF). Sound like latin to you? Well that’s because it is – apart from the pelvic floor muscles, of course! So I’ll refer to them as TA, MF and PF from now on to ease things a little.
The TA is a muscle that wraps around your waist, very much like a corset. It compresses the abdomen and internal organs, keeping everything tight and stabilising the spine.
The MF is a series of very small muscles that attach to the spinal column and help to keep the spine stable when moving your core. Research shows that it is the first muscle to activate before any movement is carried out. That means that just thinking about grabbing an apple, for example, will cause activation of the MF – even before your shoulder or arms muscles move!
The PF muscles are essentially the group of muscles that support your pelvic organs like a sling. It helps us to control our bowel and bladder, and works together with the other deep core muscles in providing core stability.
Getting it up and running again:
As mentioned before, studies indicate that back pain can cause these core muscles to become inactive and weak. Disuse can lead to further back pain.
If you have had back pain before, chances are that your core muscles will either be inactive or have some form of weakness or imbalance.
Here’s a simple activity you can do now to test your core muscle strength. Imagine that there is an invisible string running from your belly button to your spine. Now pull on this string to draw your belly button in towards your spine. Can you hold this position and still breathe and talk normally? How long can you hold it for?
Croydon Chiropractic Centre will soon be offering functional examinations that will assess your core strength. We can then tailor a program to help you regain your core function. Speak to one of our chiropractors about it if you would like more information. Until then, stay healthy and happy!
Written by Dr Roi Cheng (Chiropractor), 9/2/14
Hodges PW, Richardson CA. 1996. Inefficient muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine associated with low back pain: a motor control evaluation of transversus abdominis. Spine, 21 (22), 2640-2650.
Hides JA, Stokes MJ, Saide MJGA, Jull GA, Cooper DH. 1994. Evidence of lumbar multifidus muscle wasting ipsilateral to symptoms in patients with acute/subacute low back pain. Spine, 19 (2), 165-172.
Van Dieen JH, Cholewicki J, Radebold A. 2003. Trunk muscle recruitment patterns in patients with low back pain enhance the stability of the lumbar spine. Spine, 28 (8), 834-841.