What are your core muscles and why is your core stability so important?

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Dozens of articles regarding the importance of a strong core have been written but what is the core and why does it need to be strong? According to Wikipedia, The body's core region is sometimes referred to as the torso or the trunk, although there are some differences in the muscles identified as constituting them. The major muscles involved in core stability include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominismultifidusinternal and external obliquesrectus abdominiserector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. " While this sounds complicated, the core is required for proper breathing and movement. A properly functioning core is important for standing, along with the fascial system that covers and constantly adapts to how we move and function. Fascia forms according to the forces we place upon it.   If those forces are uneven, this will affect the core.  No matter how many planks you perform which are a well-known exercise for core stability, if the fascial system has tightened affecting the legs and the shoulders, these areas will affect the stability and effectiveness of your core.

How can you self-test your core strength and effectiveness?

  1. Stand on one leg and then the other.  Can you balance for 30 seconds on each leg without wobbling or falling over?
  2. Can you do a lunge on one side and then the other without leaning or losing your balance?
  3. Can you squat without losing your balance or leaning to one side?
  4. can you perform a side plank on either side or a standard plank for at least a minute?  If not, these are indications of core stability problems.
  5. can you easily turn over in bed or get out of bed without having to sit up or push off?
  6. Is it easy for you to get out of a chair or a car that is lower to the ground?
These are basic tests we all can do.  Try them yourself.  How did you do?   How many of these were difficult for you? Now think about problems you may currently have that are affecting the core such as lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder or elbow or wrist pain, knee pain, or foot pain. Many of these problems are symptoms of a weak or dysfunctional core.

How can I make my core work better?

Core problems are unique as they are a symptom of how we have adapted over many years  The one size fits approach employed by many trainers and therapists often fails because you cannot look at a 5-foot woman with wider hips the same way you look at a 5'6 woman who has narrower hips.  They may have different genetic traits that were adapted to differently and the practitioner who is helping you must see you as an individual and understand your unique problems.   Your medical history may offer clues such as whether you had any abdominal surgeries such as a c-section which can affect your core stability and strength.   You may also be built asymmetrically and may benefit from foot orthotics which will level the hips and improve the way your core functions and how you move. While there are many exercises that can help tone the core such as yoga bridges, pilates, planks, supermans, and foot drills, more importantly, older people especially must understand the effect of the flexibility of the joints on the core as well. For example, a tight hip flexor will constantly tighten the legs and affect the shoulders which affects the core. Most important is to understand your core issue vs. a one-size-fits approach to all core issues.

How is your core related to how you walk?

One of the most common adaptations of the core is gait or the way we walk.   When we are babies we learn to use our hands, roll, crawl, and eventually try to walk.  We then get out of toddler gait and get taller, a woman's hips get wider and we may go through some extreme growth spurts which can affect our gait and our flexibility as we grow.  Eventually, as an adult, we assume a normal which is what we are used to feeling. When we do something and experience pain, we consider this abnormal. As your healthcare provider, I look at function and consider your history of injuries and problems you may have had in the past. A model of the core we rarely hear from experts is that the core is actually a conduit of forces that affects how we walk and function.   We take one step and then the next and this continues on as we walk.   An efficient core does not distort as we walk and our gait should be symmetrical.  If it is not, we will in time have lower back, mid back, knee, and even shoulder problems and neck pain as a result.   The body will continue to compensate as we walk and do more since the fascial system tightens according to the forces we place upon it.   Over time, our core can function worse and worse, regardless of how many exercises we perform. My golden rule for core problems is that you cannot exercise away a torqued or distorted core.  What you end up with is a stronger distorted mid-section that affects how you feel, breathe, and move.

Who should you see to help you understand your core issues? 

Chiropractic sports physicians are holistic in their approach to care.   While there are many specialists who promote they have solutions to your back, neck shoulder, and foot problems, the truth is that non-holistic care to a holistic system like the body is no more than a band-aid and when poor movement destroys joints over many years, we just replace the joints or give the person a walker when the core ultimately was the problem all along for many years. A chiropractic sports physician will perform a deep history of your problems, followed by a thorough evaluation.   Many of the self-tests described earlier in this article offer clues as to how your core works or functions. Your chiropractor may suggest x-rays if the problem is long-standing on an older person or if there was trauma. They may suggest foot orthotics to balance the core when you walk improving your efficiency in how you walk and helping you to readapt to a better gait style. Follow-up visits are designed to improve how you move and function.  Chiropractors are well known for their use of joint manipulation of the spine and extremities but also will recommend corrective exercises and perform myofascial release to improve how the fascial system works while you walk. Better core function and stability result in fewer painful problems, more energy due to the efficiencies of how you work or run, and less overall pain. Many athletes rely on chiropractors because they improve the way they move naturally, and a great chiropractor will make the treatment specific to their needs rather than offer one-size-fits-all treatments and protocols.   We are all different so we need care that meets our bespoke needs, rather than one size fits all protocols. Need help now?  Book online here.