What is my core?
The “inner core” is composed of 4 deep stabilizing muscles: the transversus abdominus, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles. These muscles do not create any specific movement. Instead, when correctly working together, these muscles turn on before you move your body to provide stability to the spine and pelvis. Therefore, having a strong inner core helps to prevent back injury. It also provides a strong base of support for leg and arm movement which can help to prevent and rehabilitate neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee and ankle injuries.
Conversely, when these muscles don’t work correctly, the body must resort to less efficient movement strategies to perform various tasks. This increases your risk for injury, dysfunction and recurrent pain. Research shows that following a back injury, the anticipatory co-contraction of the inner core muscles is impaired. This can create a cycle of: injury, pain, impaired “inner core” muscles and increased risk of injury. This cycle can be broken through targeted “inner core” strengthening.
The “outer core” is composed of the rectus abdominis (“six-pack” muscle), inner and outer obliques and the back extensor muscles known as the erector spinae. These are the muscles that are normally targeted during abdominal exercise programs and “core” exercise classes. The problem with this is that the “inner core” muscles remain untrained and weak while the “outer core” muscles get stronger. During injury, the outer core muscles can tighten up in an attempt to compensate for “inner core” muscle weakness. This can actually contribute to and exacerbate back pain.
Strengthening Your Core
It is very important to add inner core strengthening to your daily routine. We normally do not think consciously about engaging these muscles and you may not even know how to isolate them. A physiotherapist can assess your current inner core strength and co-contraction, teach you how to contract these muscles and provide progressive exercises to strengthen these deep stabilizing muscles. You can also check out this video by Shawna, who takes your through an inner core workout.