To Your Health
December, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 12)
It Starts With the CORE
By Dr. Jeffrey Tucker
core is the center of the body, where all movement begins. When you lift a heavy grocery bag, reach for a suitcase, pick up one of your children, move a bookcase or throw a ball, the core muscles should activate even before your limbs are in motion. Healthy core muscles will provide your body with the structural integrity and support to your spine for everything from walking and running to lifting to standing to sitting.
During most activities, do you feel that the way you are using your body is efficient and coordinated or inefficient and uncoordinated? The core should work in an efficient and coordinated fashion to maintain correct alignment of the spine and pelvis while the limbs are moving. As you move your arms and legs, the core muscles create a solid base of support to hold the spine still. If you feel uncoordinated and have a weak core, you are susceptible to lower back pain, poor posture and a whole host of muscle injuries. Strong core muscles act as a "brace" or support to help prevent pain and injury. Strong core muscles increase the recruitment efficiency of the smaller, deeper "stabilizing" muscles around the abdominals, low back, hips and pelvis. They protect your back from potential injury. Strengthening weak core muscles can reduce existing back pain problems. Core training will help runners avoid hamstring and knee injuries; gymnasts, soccer, football and rugby players avoid groin injuries; dancers, golfers and weight-lifters avoid back injuries; and help you become stronger, fitter and healthier.
How to Perform Core Exercises
The overall core exercise prescription is 1) Create a muscle contraction that involves reduction in the muscle's length and contributes to healthy joint motion. 2) Isometrically hold this position to sustain postural alignment or support functional trunk or limb load. 3) Control the smooth return to the beginning of the motion (limb lowering against gravity). The muscles are required to control the back and forth motion, or decelerate rotational strain at all joints, especially the trunk and girdles. 4) Control whatever functional range of motion is available.
Your doctor of chiropractic can help you identify and fix your core weakness and provide you with the proper treatment approach that includes chiropractic mobilizations and adjustments to the joints to make sure they have proper movement; teach you stretches to relax tight, overactive muscles; and train you how to perform exercises for your underactive or weak core muscles. In conjunction with core stability training, as an injury prevention tool, plyometric exercises (fast, powerful muscle movements/contractions) are recommended to improve proprioceptive and reactive capabilities, which may reduce the likelihood of lower-extremity injuries.
The proper progression begins with exercises that teach you to handle your own body weight. Static body-weight exercises focus on developing stability and/or strength endurance in certain postures. The "bridge" (see description later on in this article) is an example of an exercise requiring co-contraction of the small stabilizer and larger mobilizer muscles. Next, you'll improve your overall fitness by progressing to a variety of exercises by adding resistance bands. The next progression adds stability balls, which are an excellent tool for adding instability to torso stabilization exercises or upper-body exercises such as push-ups. Finally, you'll add an unstable surface, such as a 12-inch half foam roller or soft mats, changing the lever arm, balancing on one leg or utilizing one arm. (Your doctor can give you more information on all of these exercises.)