Core strength is the foundation of our bodies. After a search online, I found that the Mayo Clinic says it best: it defines the “core” as the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen. It’s important for these muscles to work in harmony with one another, because a strong, and in-sync, core make it easier to tackle physical activities, from reaching into a cabinet to picking up your laundry off the floor.
Core strength is especially important when you have an ostomy. Since ostomies make their way from your intestine through your abdominal wall, these ab muscles seriously weaken, which then makes it difficult to do your daily tasks. So building up that core strength is crucial.
It’s also important to know that doing a few ab strengthening activities, your core won’t become strong overnight. It takes time and work to strengthen your core muscles, and should be done gradually. Even if you don’t have an ostomy, building core strength is difficult because there are so many muscles in that region that need to be built up.
Always consult a doctor or physical therapist before beginning any kind of core strengthening regimen to determine your risk of hernia. You can also work with a personal trainer at a gym to help you find the core exercises that work the best for you.
But, there’s a wide variety of ab exercises you can do with an ostomy to help engage your core and make it stronger. There are so many resources out there that focus on building core strength with an ostomy. The following are some popular recommendations:
Breathing: Remember to breathe as you exercise. You should breathe in time with the motion you perform. So if you were doing a sit up, you’d exhale as you come up, and inhale as you make your way down.
Standing exercise: The Stomaatje website recommends holding onto a table, or something near your hip height. Then, stand on one leg, and then bend your other leg, and push it backward and forward.
Seated exercise: Stomaatje recommends sitting forward on a chair and tilting your pelvis back. Then, make a C-shape with your lower back (imagine pulling the lower part of your back into the seat). Then slowly move your body forward and backward without moving your hands.
Lying down exercise: The Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Support Group (IA Support) recommends lying on the floor with a pillow under your head and bending your knees so you’re in a sit up position. Start by hovering your lower back off the floor, slowly move your back to the floor for three counts, and then relax. Stoma Bags also recommends lying down on your back, with your knees bent, and keeping your feet about a foot apart. Then, bring your arms to your chest, and contract your belly to raise your torso away from the floor. When you rise up, hold for three breaths, and then lower down. You should be gentle while doing this, and only repeat for as many times as you’re comfortable and you’re maintaining good form.
Floor exercise: IA Support recommends being on all fours (so hands on the floor and knees on the floor), keeping your back flat, and then slowly pulling your stomach toward your spine and lowering your head down. Then slowly bring your stomach back down and return to the flat back position.
If none of these moves work for you, at least right now, that’s OK. There are other modifications you can make to strengthen your core. For instance, Intense Intestines Foundation recommends using something like a BOSU ball or gym machines that engage your core, but engage your core with a very small amount of motion. You can also walk and lift your legs higher than normal, which engages your lower abs.
Don’t give up on your core through this process. Strengthening it takes a lot of time and dedication, but it’s something you can achieve. Again, make sure to work with your doctor, physical therapist, or trainer to ensure you’re doing exercises that work for you.
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Mandy is a writer and cat mom who is slowly becoming a health-nut. She’s earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about patient education materials for those diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She works full-time as a technical writer in Chicago, and serves on the board of directors and blogs for Girls With Guts, a non-profit organization to support women with IBD and/or ostomies. Follow more of her stories on HealthCentral and blog posts on the Girls With Guts website.