Strong core muscles are important for a wide range of reasons. Strong core muscles form your center; they protect your spine and provide the power for much of what you do, including many activities of daily living.
Strong core muscles are not always the same as having “6-pack abs.” I have taken care of professional athletes with lower back pain and told them they need to strengthen their core. When I tell them this, their initial reaction is to look at me as if I have two heads. After all, these folks generally do have 6-pack abs and can do hundreds of sit-ups. How can I be telling them that they are weak? But then I explain to them that it’s not just about sculpted, strong abs. It is about strengthening the abdominal muscles, particularly the lower abdominal muscles in ways that integrate them with the pelvis and the lumbar spine in such a way that they automatically contract in order to protect the lumbar spine and pelvis.
When professional athletes that I have worked with do this in the right way, it is my experience that their back pain often resolves without any further intervention. They may also note an improved sense of stability and strength, which helps them with their sport.
As always, before starting any new exercise, please check with your doctor to make sure that it is safe for you to do so. If your doctor says that it is safe for you to do these exercises, then consider trying the following exercises to improve core strength and stability.
These exercises should not be painful. If they are painful, stop them and talk with your doctor. Do not hold your breath while exercising as this can lead to dangerously elevated blood pressure. If you develop chest pain, shortness of breath or severe headache while exercising, stop and call 911.
These exercises are taken from my book, The Arthritis Handbook: Improve Your Health and Manage the Pain of Osteoarthritis. In the book, there are pictures that show these and many other exercises, but this is a good way to get started.
Posterior Pelvic Tilt
The first exercise is called a posterior pelvic tilt. You can begin by lying on your back on an exercise mat or carpet. Squeeze your gluteal muscles together so they rise slightly off the mat while at the same time you contract your abdominal muscles. Your lumbar spine should straighten and your lower back should become flat against the mat. You can check your position by trying to place your hand underneath your lower back. In this position, you should not be able to do this. Remember to breathe while doing this exercise. Hold the contracted position for 10 seconds. Relax. Rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of three times. Remember, if this exercise is painful for you, stop immediately and call your doctor.
Another good exercise is called “the bridge.” In this exercise, bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground. Contract your gluteal and abdominal muscles and raise your abdomen and buttocks off the ground so that your body is straight from your chest to your knees. It may help to think of driving your heels into the ground while contracting. Remember to breathe while doing this exercise. Hold the contracted position for 10 seconds. Relax. Rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of three times. Remember, if this exercise is painful for you, stop immediately and call your doctor.
If and only if your doctor tells you it is safe to do them, the above are two good core strengthening exercises to start with. As I mentioned, there are pictures for the above exercises and many more in my book, so I encourage you to check that out.
I hope you have found this blog helpful. I wish you the best of health because with good health, all things are possible.