Putting your spine on the line: how core stability improves better backs

Picture this: you wake up in the morning to a stiff and aching neck. It’s difficult for you to move your head to the left or right. In fact, you’re convinced that you must have slept on it the wrong way. The truth is, the problem didn’t occur overnight: it usually takes many months or years to develop the neck and back pain you may be experiencing.

At least 84% of the general population has at one stage in their lives experienced back pain. While in many cases the pain resolves itself within 2-4 weeks, some others may not be so lucky. Chronic back pain is classified as a “pain that lasts over 12 weeks.” Fortunately for us all, the aches and discomfort associated with back pain can be reversed when you provide better support for your spine with core stability and functional exercise training.

Why does musculoskeletal and spinal pain occur?

For almost the last two decades, there has been a growing amount of evidence to suggest that back pain may be partly caused by weak core abdominal muscles over time. In healthy people, abdominal, deep spinal and pelvic muscles all work in cohesion to enable our bodies to run like a well-oiled machine in all aspects of daily life – from bending over to pick up a scrap of paper from the floor, to lifting a baby out of their car seat or reaching for a mug on a high shelf. In particular, our transverse abdominal muscles, which are located on the sides of the lower back and extend around the front of us, contract every time we move a leg or an arm. Being at the centre of your body, your core needs to be strong enough to support your entire weight. If your core muscles are weak, then you inevitably will suffer from musculoskeletal and spinal pain.

Studies conducted in the ‘90s discovered that well-coordinated core muscle movement stabilises our spines and creates a strong basis of support for all movement. Since your abs provide essential support for your spine, it makes sense to train them so your back muscles don’t have to work as hard. When you develop stronger central muscles through core stability training, you’re less likely to strain the muscles in your back or neck.

Core stability training: what is it?

You may have seen late-night infomercials that promise flat abs with ‘just 10 minutes of exercise a day.’ While you may not achieve six-pack abs, by training your core, you will develop strong abdominal muscles – this in turn may make you less prone to back injuries.

Simply by exercising your internal and external obliques and transverse abdominals through push-ups, planks, and abdominal crunches, you can protect your back as well as your neck. In fact, single trials indicated that particular stabilisation exercises were beneficial in the treatment of headaches that resulted from spinal problems in the neck.

The combination of a functional resistance exercise program with core stability training, as well as gentle aerobic exercise like walking, cycling or swimming walking, can help to prevent and alleviate musculoskeletal pain. Walking is considered an effective form of exercise for those suffering from lower back pain. As it does not involve twisting or vigorous bending, it is safe, easy, and convenient.

Other forms of light exercise and stretching, such as pilates, yoga, and tai chi all engage the core as well, strengthening these muscles in order to hold up your body well.

How back and neck pain can be treated

If you know how to avoid injuries then it’s very easy to prevent them. Other than maintaining a good posture and participating in core strength exercises, here are just a few of the things you can do every day include:

• Stretch regularly: if you sit at a desk for most of your day, consider standing up and stretching for a few minutes every hour. Using a stand up desk at work for 10-15 mins every hour is particularly good way to reset the muscles around the pelvis, hips, spine and knees.
• Get enough sleep: it may sound cliché, but a good night’s sleep really does help everything – including your spine.
Be proactive: at the first sign of a niggle or an ache, seek help from an accredited, experienced physiotherapist with a good reputation. Their treatment and their advice may save you untold amounts of pain and money.
• Incorporate proper lifting techniques: use your legs instead of your back to lift heavy objects.

Don’t let back or neck pain get so severe that it limits your daily enjoyment of life. Speak to Bodycare today about introducing core stability training into your workforce.