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Building core strength is an integral part of actually recovering from back pain, but in general it’s importance is not insisted upon enough as part of a normal rehabilitation program. You might have heard the term ‘engage your core’ thrown around in your yoga class, but do you actually know how to do it? Your core helps to support your body when its under stress and strain, but especially when you unexpectedly slip off the curb, or someone jostles past you in the street or on the tube – it’s essentially your body’s protecting mechanism.

What Are The Core Muscles?

So what makes up the core? It’s often misunderstood as simply the six pack muscles. When it’s mentioned that you need to strengthen your core, people think it’s just a case of doing some sit-ups, maybe some leg raises or plank to try and get their six pack muscles nice and strong, or trying to make them more prominent. This would simply be misguided and not actually addressing the whole core. Time and time again, we see patients who come in and say they have a strong core because perhaps they can hold a plank for a number of minutes in their yoga class, or maybe they regularly train at the gym. But when you actually examine them doing the exercises we prescribe, they actually can’t engage their deeper core muscles. These core muscles form a ring around your midsection, and protect your lower back. If the core is nice and strong, they can protect the delicate joints in your lower back that are weight bearing all day, and from stress and strains that may cause you to get back pain.


How Do You Engage Your Core Muscles?

How can you tell if you’re engaging your core, and how do you do it? We teach core activation very simply here at the clinic to our patients all the time, through an exercise called Vacuums. The easiest way to do this is to lay down on your back, and get relaxed. Take a deep breath in, and during your next breath out, draw in your belly button towards your spine and hold for a few seconds. Repeat the step a few times to get used to the activation. With practice, you should then be able to activate your core muscles on cue, and use the first step in all of your exercise. If you’re performing an exercise, activate your core first before starting, and if you lose it make sure to reset before starting the next repetition.

Effect Of Inactivity On Core Muscles

The big challenge we have nowadays is inactivity. Having a desk job that occupies a lot of time during your day can have a significant effect on the integrity and strength of your body – especially your lower back and stability. Let’s say you have a desk job where you’re sat for six or seven hours out of the day. Perhaps you have an hour long commute – there and back that’s an extra two hours added on top. Then if you get home and have a sit down to watch TV or Netflix, and then to eat dinner – that’s essentially most of a whole day that is spent doing nothing. Obviously it doesn’t feel like you’re doing nothing, because your mind is occupied – but your body is not. The fundamental structure that protects your lower back loses its strength through inactivity, and people wonder why they get back pain. Strengthening this part of your body is vitally important for your back, and it’s very common to just not be aware of how little stimulation it receives on a daily basis.

Strengthening Your Core When You Don’t Have Back Pain

Not taking the time to strengthen your core while you don’t have a back complaint, can end up making your recovery from a back injury much longer. When you slip into a back injury, if it becomes progressively worse and more prevalent, it becomes more difficult to build core strength. The exercises required to provide stability and strengthen your core muscles often cause you a bit of back discomfort, it can be a constant cycle of being unable to perform them, so you re-injure yourself easily. If you don’t currently have any back pain, it would be worthwhile taking the time to do the right kind of exercises. If you’re not sure on what exercises you should be doing, make sure to check out our Back in Shape mobile app – it’s a free to download app with a free plan included that will give you some simple but effective exercises, that teach you to engage your core effectively. That way, even if you’re unlucky and you fall off the curb, or are involved in an accident, your core should be able to take the stress, and allow your back the respite it requires to recover effectively and heal the damage.

We hope this article has been helpful for you in learning how to effectively activate and train your core, for improved lower back health. If you have any questions, please reach out to us either on our social channels, or by emailing us at info@themayfairclinic.com. If you’ve been suffering with back or neck pain for a couple of weeks or longer and it’s not going away, do give us a call to see how we can help you. Contact us either by calling on 0203 947 3222 or by emailing the address above! The Back in Shape app is available to download on the app store for iOS here or on the Google Play Store here.

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