Why Care About Your Core? – Amie King, PT

Why care about your Core?


Physical therapists are often asked for advice from family and friends about what they can do to either heal from a painful issue, or prevent a painful issue.  And it is obviously something we are passionate about helping people with, from our family to our patients. Though there are certainly many things that contribute to pain and dysfunction and there is never, ever a one-size-fits-all solution, core strengthening consistently falls onto the short list of helpful things to do.  Whether you are more sedentary, and just trying to get back pain under control to take care of yourself and your home, or you are a marathon runner trying to get that knee pain to go away so you can train harder to achieve your PR, core strengthening is of the utmost importance.  

So why is that?  And what is your core, anyway?  How can “one thing” be helpful for many different kinds of pain as well as many different kinds of people?  Simple physics.   One must have a stable base to move off of in order to have effective, efficient, and purposeful movement.   Imagine sitting on a floating raft, and how hard it is to move around on it, or even just to reach up to grab something someone is handing you from the dock or pool deck.  It’s much harder to move off of an unstable surface.  And this is true in our bodies as well.  Our core musculature – specifically our Transverse Abdominus, Multifidus, and our pelvic floor (which is a group of 16 different muscles in the base of our pelvis) – attach onto our bony structure to provide the stability we need to keep our spines healthy and our arm and leg movements efficient.  Just think of the weight of one of your legs.  Now think of how often you lift your legs.  Every day.  If you don’t have a strong group of core muscles, lifting your leg can put stress and strain on your low back.  The same can happen in your upper or lower back with moving your arms.  Hip and shoulder motion moves off our trunk.  If our trunk, and mostly core musculature isn’t as strong as it should be, then our body has to find ways to compensate to get the movement it needs and this is where poor movement patterns and dysfunction can begin.  

Now that you have a small understanding of why your core is so important, are you wondering what you can do for it?  There are hundreds and hundreds of variations of core exercises, and it certainly depends on where you are starting and what your goals are.  But the basis of all the proper exercises are simple.  You must learn to find, and engage your transverse abdominus (TA), which is easier said than done for many of us.  Even people who regularly work out often have a difficult time properly activating their TA.  Sometimes, even harder than people who don’t exercise, if they have trained hard working their rectus abdominus or obliques, which are more superficial trunk muscles.  The proper exercises are all focused on stability, not power or movement.  

Since many studies came out on the importance of core strength in the 1990s, “core strengthening” has continued to gain popularity and there are more opportunities to take a core-focused exercise class than ever before.  But if you aren’t sure if you are properly engaging the correct muscles, or have any discomfort when trying, please come see a physical therapist and we can help get you on the right track.

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