The core muscles are some of the most important ones in the body. When it comes to protecting your skeletal system, having supportive muscles is vital. Often it can take time to develop a back dysfunction, which is why it likewise can take time to resolve with exercise. Today we’ll explain why the core muscles are so important, what course of exercises you can do to improve the problem and what the wrong ones are so you know to avoid them!
What Causes Back Pain?
First of all, why do we experience back pain? Well, most back problems occur as a result of excessive compression in the spine. Our spine is naturally aligned in a way that enables us to distribute our bodyweight. It has natural curves that allow that stress to not cause us a problem. The trouble is that most of us these days spend an inordinate amount of time sitting and with poor posture. Although poor posture causes us little issue to begin with, besides the odd tension in the muscles and being perhaps a little stiff, it’s this accumulation over time that has a big effect on your spinal health. Think of it like the waves on the cliffs causing erosion: it’s not the one off storm that causes most of the erosion, but the everyday high tide. As we adopt poor posture more frequently, our muscles and ligaments stretch to accommodate – as our body is extraordinarily adaptive. It’s this stretching that causes the muscle tightness, which is something often people don’t think of because the two seem like opposing notions. As these muscles and ligaments stretch, our alignment shifts with it and all of a sudden these areas of the spine that are not designed to bear that amount of load are under strain. This is where pockets of degeneration start to occur, and over time issues like disc bulges can happen due to compression. It’s likely in the early stages you might get the odd spell of back pain that lasts perhaps a couple of days or weeks before disappearing, but eventually it causes the back to ‘go’ and the pain may persist for longer each time.
Why Is The Core Important?
At this point, you’ll likely go to visit a healthcare practitioner for some help if the pain in your back is persisting. You might well be given some painkillers or a recommendation of improving your core strength. This is because our skeletal structure requires the support of our muscles to effectively support our body through its daily tasks. If you think about it, your spine is a small structure that’s expected to support a large shoulder girdle, your ribcage as well as your bodyweight, and it can’t do it alone. When people think core muscles, their mind often jumps to exercises that train the abdominals, such as sit-ups, leg raises, planks or russian twists. But without the understanding as to what makes your back pain worse, you’re unknowingly doing more damage. When you round the spine in exercises like sit-ups and russian twists, you’re applying more pressure onto the front of the disc. In fact, the movement is often recommended in the form of knee hugs to help relieve pressure – this is because when you bring your knees to your chest you open out the space at the back of the discs where the nerves travel through. In that moment, you’ll experience less compression but it applies more pressure to the front and worsens the overall issue. If you take russian twists, you’re then adding extra weight into the equation, which does even more damage. With planks, although your curve in your spine might be maintained, it’s the weight either side of your spine that can cause your back to dip in the movement, which again can cause quite a lot of strain. The right core exercises will support the spine by holding everything in tight and taking the pressure away, essentially helping it to weight bear. This can make daily life when you have a back condition, much easier and pain free when persisted with.
What Core Exercises Should You Do?
So we’ve established that sit-ups, leg raises, planks and russian twists are to be avoided – what core exercises should you be doing instead then? As part of our Back In Shape membership area, we recommend functional exercises that help improve the muscles we use on a daily basis. If you’re in the throws of a relapse or your back has just gone, you’ll want to start off with Phase 1. This is a very gentle start incorporating stretches that are going to help your lower body function more effectively by relieving tension in some of those supportive muscles. We also teach you how to engage your core for the later core exercises, and also a two-step inflammation relieving protocol to help lower pain levels. This phase is available free of charge. It’s important that you accept these exercises as being helpful for the spine, rather than something that may potentially cause you more pain. We see time and time again that people will often think they’re too sore to do the exercises, but they’ll struggle around the house doing their chores. These exercises are helpful, should be done everyday and are less strenuous than those everyday activities. You’ll also want to get up and move around, avoid spending too much time sitting down but don’t overdo it. When you improve to the point where you’re able to move around, with or without pain, for around 15 minutes at a time, you’re able to move onto Phase 2. This starts to integrate exercises that will start to strengthen, so it’s important you move onto them as soon as you can, as these will make the most difference long-term. These are again very gentle, and can be worked up to slowly. Don’t think you need to start off doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions straight off the bat, you may even be able to only do 1 repetition to start with – this serves to show just how much work you need to do. After you’ve mastered these, Phase 3 will go on to further challenge the muscles with added resistance to protect your spine for the long-term.
We hope you found today’s topic of core exercises helpful! If you have any questions at all on how to strengthen your core muscles or about our Back In Shape membership area, please do get in touch!