One of the most common medical syndromes that a Mississauga personal trainer will see in their clients is chronic lower back pain. In fact, studies have shown that 80-90% of all adults will experience low back pain at some point of their lifetime (Wipf & Deyo 1995). Since the lumbar (lower) vertebrae must constantly deal with the weight of the entire upper body, which becomes a lot harder when you factor in poor posture and weak core activation, it definitely comes as no surprise why the prevalence of low back pain is so high.
Low Back Pain & Core Stabilization
Low back pain is an umbrella term. It can refer to pathology in the structures around the lumbar vertebra that are termed “inert” meaning they are mainly for support, or “contractile” meaning they generate contractions to move or stabilize the region. Ligaments, disks, and bones are inert structures, whereas tendons and muscles are contractile structures. The best analogy to understand the difference between the two is to compare flossing rope (inert) to an elastic band (contractile). The reason I mention these terms is that both these type of structures, inert and contractile, have a role in lower back pain. However, in terms of treating and managing the symptoms of lower back pain, patients often have the most potential to improve the contractile structures around the lumbar vertebrae using core stability exercises.
What is core stability? It is the ability to maintain structural integrity and prevent perturbations from neutral alignment of the lumbar vertebra by activation of the muscles that surround the area in a way that maintains an equilibrium. You may have heard the term “neutral spine” before, and this is essentially what core stabilization is trying to achieve. The core muscles all have a role in either attaching directly to, or indirectly affecting the position of the lumbar spine. They include the Transversus Abdominis which is essentially the body’s natural belt, the pelvic floor muscles, the multifidus, and the diaphragm which is the major breathing muscle. You may not have heard of these muscles, and that is fine because a Mississauga personal trainer will focus on teaching you how to engage them rather than memorizing what they are. The following are two main benefits of training your core musculature:
1. It helps you control the force generated by other body parts more effectively
The arms and legs can move more effectively when the core is engaged properly. A good Mississauga personal trainer can demonstrate exercises that will get you to actively engage and stabilize your core while activating the movement of your arms and legs. It will not be easy the first time for most people, but learning to engage the core as a precursor to moving any other part of the body will help you move more effectively as well as protect your lower back.
2. It protects the lower back through anticipatory postural adjustments
The more you train your core muscles to actively engage during movement, the better they become in activating during unexpected changes to your posture. Things like a trip, a missed step down the stairs, or even a bump on the road are unpredictable situations that alter our posture and can transmit a lot of unwanted force to our lower back. If you have ever suddenly hurt your lower back in the past, you may have done so by tweaking it in such fashion. A stronger core is better at pre-programmed muscle activation that can help your body anticipate such unpredictable situations to better stabilize and protect your lower back when you need to the most.
Developing stability in your lumbar vertebra through core exercises is a fundamental way to help prevent and/or reduce low back pain. Given the specific and uncommon nature of these exercises, a certified trainer is needed at least initially to help teach you how to engage these muscles and use them during your future workouts.