How To Locate and Activate Deep Core Stabilising Muscles to Help Prevent Lower Back Pain
Often, we have weak core muscles which can lead to all sorts of problems around our hips, pelvis, and back. Through Pilates classes we learn how to activate these muscles before performing each exercise and how to keep them engaged as we move through the exercise. Over time, the more regularly we switch on and engage these muscles the stronger they will become which in turn leads to core stability and a strong, stable pelvis and back.
Core stability is very much part of the Pilates concept. The deep, inner core muscles around our torso beneath more superficial trunk muscles act as a corset. These intrinsic muscles stabilise and support the spine. We maintain equilibrium and control of our spine and pelvic region during movement by switching these muscles on. Pilates exercises strengthen the core muscles in your pelvis, lower back, and abdomen.
In Pilates, we talk about the core muscles being the “powerhouse” of the body and we stand and move from that place of strength. We will discuss more about this in our next blog on centring.
The 5 Main Components of Core Stability
There are 5 deep inner core muscles that supply segmental stability:
- Transverse abdominus muscle
- Multifidus muscle
- Pelvic floor muscles
- Diaphragm muscle
- Internal abdominal oblique muscles
The transverse abdominus muscle is a flat, thin sheet of muscle that wraps horizontally around our waist like a thick belt.
Another core muscle is the multifidus muscle which is a series of small triangular muscle bundles that run lengthwise on either side of the spine from the lower back to the neck.
The core also includes the pelvic floor which is a group of muscles that stretch like a hammock in the pelvis running from the pubic bone at the front to the coccyx (tail bone) at the back. Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, bowel, and in women the uterus (womb).
The diaphragm is another of the five core muscles and separates the thoracic cavity (rib cage area) from the abdominal cavity below. As we breathe in (inhale) the diaphragm contracts and as we breath out (exhale) it relaxes. We often don’t use our diaphragm through its full range of movement and instead shallow breathe. The breathing we do in Pilates helps activate the diaphragm muscle fully. Have a look at our ‘Breathing the Pilates way’ blog for more info on Pilates breathing. Pilates breathing works in sequence with core muscle activation as we set up to perform each Pilates move.
Finally, the internal abdominal oblique muscles are at the sides of our torso beneath our external obliques and they act to stabilise the trunk and movement in the back with the other core muscles mentioned above.
Why Is Core Stability Important in Daily Life?
The core muscles support and protect our spine and act to prevent injury. For example, picking up an item off the floor without properly activating these muscles will overload the spine and pelvis which can then lead to injury. Common injuries from this action can range from a muscle strain in the back to a slipped disc also known as a prolapsed or herniated disc. Research shows that people with lower back pain often have significant atrophy and weakness of the multifidus muscle. This can lead to decreased stability of the spine and can result in repeated lower back issues. A strong multifidus muscle will stabilise the spine. This is one of the 5 core muscles we switch on and engage in Pilates.
What are the Benefits of Core Stability and Keeping Core Muscles Strong?
Movement During Your Day Is Easy
You’ll be able to perform day-to-day tasks easily without thinking twice. You will not be worrying you’re going to strain muscles and feel pain and discomfort. When you come to do that sudden twist to pick something up from the ground, you’re able to perform the move easily without giving it a second thought.
Everyday activities like cooking (stretching up to reach a high cupboard in the kitchen), gardening (digging and raking), DIY, craftwork, and painting (holding tools for long periods of time while standing or sitting) can be performed with ease. With core stability, all these daily activities, hobbies, and interests are easier to do and you are less prone to injure yourself.
Helping Prevent Urinary Incontinence
A reason for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles is to improve tone and function which benefits both women and men who experience stress urinary incontinence.
The Protection of Our Organs
Organs are a vital part of your body’s function, and a strong core will help protect them. Organs like your liver, spleen, kidneys, and others, live right underneath your abdominal wall which acts as a protective cover. As a result, the stronger your core, the better it protects that tissue from external force or damage.
Increased Performance in Sport
Core stabilisation will benefit athletic performance too as you will move smoothly and from a strong, balanced centre. Core strength allows the pelvis, hips and lower back to work together with less rocking and less energy expended. Practicing good form and engaging the core muscles correctly is important in whatever sport you play. Whether you run marathons, partake in golf, love cycling or play regular competitive games such as tennis or squash, you will get better results with a strong core. You are also more likely to remain injury free.
Feeling Confident and Looking Good
If your core is strong and you have good stability and posture, you will carry yourself with confidence throughout your day. A tall upright posture exudes strength and confidence and you will feel better within yourself.
Our ‘Good Body Alignment’ article explains in detail how to achieve great posture.
Stability As You Get Older
Core stability improves balance as you are working from a solid base. It is far easier to stay upright on solid ground or recover more easily if you stumble if your core is strong. Particularly as you get older, you want to feel confident that you are not going to fall and trip so easily. Even when standing to cross the road, you will feel more stable and centred in your body which feels good. A body that is aligned and upright will make you less prone to back pain, leading to better posture and better balance.
Please have a look at this short video and if you would like to know more on how to locate and activate your core muscles as we do in the Pilates classes or would like to join an online Pilates class please get in touch at email@example.com