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Do Core Exercises Help my Back Pain?


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It is the most common complaint of man; dull or shooting pain, left or right, in the middle of your back or closer to your butt. Back pain can come from a variety of activities, BUT even more commonly from a lack of movement. First off, ignore the noise you might hear or read – there is no “core” muscle. The core is an abstract concept, usually referring to the strength and motor control of the trunk and hips. While core stability and these muscles are critical, the fault has been their emphasis as an isolated system, separate from the rest of the body.


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The major role of core is to resist movement, and as such, core strength is also referred to as core stability. The lower back area, the lumbar spine, serves a crucial role in stabilizing the trunk/pelvis connection during movement. I call these back pain victims “long” as it explains their movements and/or their body type (anthropometrics: the measurement of a human individual); Back pain can arise from movement patterns that push the hips straight back and drop the chest, like most of us sitting at a computer, typing.

These mechanics delay the stretch shortening cycle (refers to the muscle action when active muscle lengthening is immediately followed by active muscle shortening. This combination of eccentric and concentric contractions is one the most common type of muscle action during locomotion), likely limiting faster twitch muscle involvement in favor of timing. These “hip dominant” mechanics put excessive stress on the back because the use of the knees and ankles is limited. Pain doesn’t always stem from where the pain is felt. The term “long” can also refers to body type, taller individuals and/or ectomorphs, a leaner body type.

A review assembled all previous research focused on the association between core stability and performance. The authors found that targeted core stability training provides little benefits to athletic performance. This insufficient stimulus from isolated core stability is from the inability to carry over to a complex performance task…movement. It is not that some extra ab exercises (“core” work) will hurt you, they are just highly unlikely to help you.

A common myth for lifting is it causes back pain (deadlift blog), yet lifting heavier things can be a stimulus for lower back musculature. In order to avoid the bent over posture, choosing upright movements can be particularly helpful (see Split Squat below) as it forces ankles & knees to bend. To avoid this pain from returning, best to avoid the opposing patterns that bend only at the hip (KB Swings, Hip Thrust, etc).

How Long till it gets better? Until the pain subsides. Though the awareness of your movement pattern is eternal for a pain free lifestyle. Seems too daunting? Another option is to keep doing your “core” work and settle for eternal back pain instead.

Reference 

Reed CA, Ford KR, Myer GD, Hewett TE. Sports Med. The effects of isolated and integrated ‘core stability’ training on athletic performance measures: a systematic review. 2012 Aug 1;42(8):697-706.