The lower back and the role of core stabilising muscles

When you experience back pain, the core stabilisers — deep muscles in the abdomen and back — may function inadequately. Commonly referred to as ‘corset muscles’, stabilisers help preserve spine stability and posture. The stabilisers are synchronized with a different group of muscles (moving muscles) involved with operation of your arms, legs and trunk. This relationship between moving muscles and stabilising muscles allows for the most efficient and effective movement patterns.

The deep stabilising muscles normally activate involuntarily, milliseconds prior to movement associated with getting out of a chair, walking, and bending.   However, when they are weak, they fail to induce movement, disrupting the normal sequence of muscle activation.  Over time, they may experience greater decline (especially if associated pain is chronic and ongoing), surrendering the bulk of the workload to the moving muscles. The result is an unstable spine.

If you experience back pain, it is vital that you improve the strength of both stabiliser and moving muscles.  In turn, your spine will experience more support and reinforcement, resulting in lower levels of back pain.

Consciously activating the deep core stabilisers before and during activity — such as walking, getting out of a chair, treading stairs, or even rolling over in bed — is vital to help restore normal movement patterns and reduce pain. Yet, actively engaging these muscles can be awkward because they are normally controlled involuntarily.  There are several ways to intentionally engage the stabiliser muscles, and this requires experimentation and practice. As a general goal, aim to stabilize the lumbopelvic region (base of the spine and hips) without creating discomfort when breathing!


Three tips for strengthening your core stabilising muscles

  1. Engage your pelvic floor by pulling up between your legs like you are stopping urination midstream but don’t squeeze your buttocks
  2. Draw your belly button in towards your spine and brace the abdominals just before lifting and moving. Don’t forget to breathe.
  3. Walk tall like a model and imagine you have a wire up through the centre of your spine lifting you up.

Bracing around your abdomen prior to moving  is important. Also, do not compromise the pelvic floor muscles by exerting too much downward pressure. In order to benefit from these exercises, they must become a habit that you perform throughout the day in conjunction with daily movement. It is common to experience muscle fatigue or soreness when these muscles are initially engaged, but they will become stronger over time, and enable you to move with proficiency.  Deb.