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Ever had trouble bending down to reach something

By: Cierra Washington, ATC

“Why are we focusing on my core if my lower back is what’s hurting?” This is a question that is often heard in the physical therapy world. To answer this question, let’s talk spinal anatomy, muscular imbalances and posture.  

When patients come in with lower back pain, one of the very first muscle groups assessed is the core. Most lower back injuries occur from unbalanced abdominals and poor low back mechanics. Over training “core” muscles, while leaving the back muscles to fend for themselves, ultimately sets you up for injury. When most people hear the word “core,” they immediately refer to rock solid abs. A six pack refers to the muscles directly in the center of the abdomen, known as the rectus abdominus. In addition to the rectus abdominus, there are three other major core movers:

  • Rectus Abdominus: “thee flexor”
  • Obliques: Spine stability, trunk rotation, side-bending
  • Transverse Abdominus: “corset”, the deepest and innermost abdominal musculature, stabilizes the lower spine

All of these muscles work together to provide static and dynamic stability for the entire body. When any of the muscles groups become out of balance with the others, the body’s overall functionality takes a major toll. Imagine a building with four sides all of which are supposed to support a large load. Now, imagine that one of those pillars loses some of its strength and isn’t able to provide the same amount of stability as the others. Not only are the other three sides being overworked, meaning they are weakening faster, but now the damaged side is more susceptible to injury/failure. Relating this analogy to your back, when the core muscles are weakened, our spinal alignment is altered, which then changes how the body moves, reacts and absorbs external forces.

That leads me to the next subtopic: POSTURE! As we age, we slowly start to become lazy and learn “easier” ways to complete simple tasks, such as bending from the hips instead of squatting from the knees to get something down low. Now, add in the fact that the majority of people work at a desk for 40+ hours/week, look down at their phones and spend hours sitting in traffic, we all have the tendency to slouch, round our shoulders, have weak cores and stand with a forward-head posture. To strengthen those postural mechanics, it’s important to activate the core, which helps the lower body to remain in a neutral spine position and also increases the likelihood of straightening the thoracic and cervical spine as well.

Core stability is another important topic to touch on when discussing functional movements. With a strong core, functional movements are more isolated, more powerful and lead to better performance. For instance, imagine throwing a baseball. When a pitcher has a weak core, he is forced to use his entire body to produce additional speed, which in turn uses more energy than generating the power from his arm. When the pitcher is able to control his core, he is then able to provide more control over each phase of the pitch allowing for better speed and placement, which in turn makes him more of a threat.

Lastly, we will discuss what can happen when the core muscles are not strengthened appropriately. Some of the most common lower back injuries that can occur due to weakened core muscles are muscle sprains or strains, disc bulge or herniation and spinal misalignments. The take home point for this article is learning that strengthening the core is a critical part when looking to rehabilitate or prevent any lower back pain. If you are experiencing any lower back pain or discomfort look, don’t ignore it. Call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center TODAY at 703-450-4300.

CLICK HERE for more information on how physical therapy can address lower back pain and injuries. 

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