‘Core Strength’ is probably one of the most used and abused terms floating around gyms and amongst health professionals and personal trainers.
Over the last few years we’ve seen an increasing number of people  fall victim to an often misguided approach and undertake generic  ‘core’ exercise regimes that have led to back or hip pain which can be linked to improperly ’training their core’.

What makes all this core craziness worse is that so often when more ‘core strengthening’ fails to reduce pain, patients are usually blamed for not doing enough or not trying hard enough…like somehow it’s their fault they’ve been given inappropriate exercise advice!

Control and dynamic stability are essential when we consider biomechanics but your ‘core’ is not the only thing that needs to be stable. As Osteopaths we consider both segmental (single joint) stability and global (whole body) control and the truth is that you can’t have one without the other!

Let me use a little example to explain myself… Everyone uses abdominal work or crunches to strengthen their core and if each of the individual spinal and pelvic joints that make up your core are strong, stable and functioning well (and most likely in that case you’re pain free) – then you’ll get a stronger abs and often a more stable midsection.

If however you have spinal joint pain with some commonly associated muscle weakness- then all you often get is more pressure on the vertebral discs and more pain and dysfunction.

The ‘core’ is more than just your abs, its a combination of muscles on both the back and front of the body, some are big strong muscles that produce big movements and some are small workhorses that stabilise and control individual joints while the big guns move everything else around. They both need to be trained.

Why over-training your core can be harmful

‘Core training’ has become mistakenly synonymous with ‘strengthening your abs’. Unfortunately the real implications of research have often been misunderstood and many of the ‘core muscle training’ programmes offered by the health and fitness industry are often poorly conceived and delivered, frequently adopting directives such as ‘suck the stomach in” – with the emphasis on ‘pulling in’,  ‘holding’ and curling the spine forward.

Overworking the abdominal muscles can create too much tightness around the centre of the body which can adversely affect important aspects of our body, for example, altered spinal posture and difficulty effectively controlling movements of the trunk, can lead to:

  • Increasing incidence of low back pain and associated disorders
  • Hip dysfunction and pain
  • Unhelpful breathing patterns
  • Neck and shoulder tension and pain
  • Stress urinary incontinence

The core muscles do not only consist of the abdominal musculature, but also consist of the trunk and pelvic muscles and quite importantly, many of the muscles of the hips and shoulders.

Improved control of the ‘core’ enables the pelvis and base of the spine to better support posture and movements of the whole spinal column. Core control is also fundamental in being able to develop functional strength as well as the ability to stretch more effectively and safely without reinforcing unhealthy stresses on the spine.

A strong core can lead to the improvement of everyday life, injury prevention, chronic back pain reduction, and enhanced sports performance.

If you are suffering from any upper and lower limb injury as well as pain in the spine, your functional core stability needs to be assessed and an appropriate rehabilitation program set. This should be very individual to you and work with your lifestyle and your physical demands – whether your problem is cleaning the house or you’re an elite athlete.