Core Stability

Posted on February 1st, 2012

Core stability is vital for normal functioning of the human body and is necessary to prevent and recover from a multitude of musculoskeletal injuries.

Core stability requires an intimate relationship between the “global muscle system” and the “local muscle system”. Together the local and global muscles work to stabilise and support the spine and pelvis in order to provide a solid base off which the extremities can move.

The global muscle system refers to the large, superficial, power-generating muscles, such as the rectus abdominis (6-pack muscle) and the obliques.  These muscles are movement muscles, and they switch on and off throughout the day as needed.

The local muscle system is made up of the smaller, deeper muscles, including the pelvic floor muscles (at the bottom), the diaphragm (at the top), the transversus abdominis (at the front), and multifidus and gluteals (at the back). These muscles are endurance muscles, and they must remain active throughout the day to maintain upright body posture.

In the presence of dysfunction, such as low back pain, the local muscle system becomes weak, fatigues quickly and essentially ‘switches off’, whereas the global system becomes overactive and tight. This imbalance between the two muscle systems further perpetuates the dysfunction and pain. In order to overcome this imbalance, rehabilitation of the core muscles must focus on the activation and endurance of the local muscle system as well as the relaxation of the global muscle system. Core stability training is a vital component in the prevention and management of low back pain as well as many other musculoskeletal conditions.

To locate your core muscles, lie on your back with your knees bent and your spine in a neutral position (not flat against the bed but not arched up). Focus on the area below your belly button and try to gently draw it in towards your spine. You can place your hands just in front of the hip bones to feel a slight bulge of the muscle as you contract it. You should be able to breathe at the same time as you contract the muscle. Initially aim to hold the muscle contraction for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Further exercise progressions are based on using the core muscles to maintain a steady spine and pelvis while adding movements of the arms and/or legs. Eventually the two muscle systems must be trained to work together to maintain a stable pelvis and spine in a variety of positions and throughout the variety of challenging tasks that your body undertakes every day.

A physiotherapist can perform a comprehensive assessment of your core stability and provide a progressive strengthening program that is tailored to your individual needs. They will also ensure you are performing the exercises correctly and activating the right muscles.