Getting To The Core Of Low Back Pain
Updated: Mar 5
Your ”Core” – What This Really Means
Your “core” is composed of the deep muscles at the front (abdominals), back, sides of your torso, as well as your pelvic floor muscles. All of these muscles work together to maintain your posture, support your reproductive organs (i.e. kegal exercises), and in stabilizing your body as an anchorage point. A strong core should feel like a pillar of strength from inside, and all sides. When the core is not strong enough, the larger back muscles compensate and take over. This can cause overuse of the low back muscles and ultimately leads to injury and low back pain. It is important to use ALL of the core muscles in order to prevent overuse of one region. The next section will explain why the low back isn’t necessarily the site of the problem even when it’s the location of pain.
Why The Problem Isn’t Necessarily Where It Hurts
The human body is amazing in the way that it adapts to protect itself and to maintain the ability to keep on functioning through adversity! This is an amazing thing and should be appreciated. The body automatically tells certain muscles to compensate for weaker ones in order to perform the movements that your brain tells your body to perform. There is more than one muscle that can be used to complete each type of movement. Therefore, when one of these muscles is weak, another will do the work for both of them. The downfall of this is that, even though you are performing the desired movement, the strong muscles can become overused and injured when compensating for a muscular weakness. This is why pain often occurs at the stronger muscles.
When there is muscle pain present, the root of the problem is commonly at another location where a muscle weakness is present. This can make finding the root of the problem difficult, but that is the art and science of Chiropractic! Dr. Campbell’s focus when treating a muscular problem is to determine what is at the core of the problem, and to treat any muscular imbalances. The goal of your treatment plan will be to minimize pain, treat any trigger points (knots), normalize muscular function, and regain normal joint motion.
The Core and Low Back Pain
Your body’s priority in the low back region is to protect the internal organs, reproductive system, and spinal column. In order to protect these areas, the core stabilizes the torso and prevents any damaging movements and outside forces. When the core isn’t strong enough to support and protect the torso and the elements within it, the more superficial and large back muscles overwork to compensate for that lack of support. Once these large back muscles become fatigued and injured from overuse, low back pain results.
How To Strengthen The Core
Below are a few exercises that can help to create a pillar of strength around your core. By creating this pillar of strength, you will be preventing and/or treating ”mechanical”/muscular low back pain by getting to the source of the problem. There are other more serious causes of low back pain such as a kidney infection and cancer. Therefore, always talk to your Chiropractor about the source of your low back pain before performing these exercises. If your Chiropractor says that your low back pain is ”mechanical” or “muscular,” these exercises will be appropriate to help you.
When completing them, you will be asked to “brace your core.” To do this, tighten all of the muscles surrounding your torso and squeeze your pelvic floor as if you are stopping a stream of urine. It should feel similar to when you cough.
Here are the exercises:
1. Dead Bug
Lie on your back with your knees in the air, hips at 90 degrees, and arms straight up to the ceiling. Keep your knees bent at 90 degrees and your arms straight during the entire exercise. Now brace your core so that your low back is flat on the floor. Maintain your back flat on the floor throughout the entire exercise. Bring your right leg down so your toe touches the floor, at the same time bringing your left arm towards the floor over your head. Go down as far as you can without letting your low back raise from the floor. Now switch and bring your left leg and right arm down. Perform this 10-15 times on each side, 1-3 times per day. You can make this more difficult by holding a ball while performing.
Here is a link to a video of a person performing the Dead Bug exercise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_BYB0R-4Ws
2. Cross Crawl a.k.a. Bird Dog Exercise
Go onto your hands and knees with your shoulders and hips at right angles. This looks just like the dead bug exercise except upside-down. Brace your core muscles and maintain a flat back throughout the entire exercise. Also, keep your shoulders and hips level throughout the entire exercise. A couple of ways to ensure that you are keeping your back flat and shoulders/hips level is to watch yourself in a mirror or by placing a foam roller across your low back and not letting it fall off. Bring your right arm up in front of you and extend your left leg behind you while maintaining a tucked in stomach and a braced core. Slowly bring them back down and switch sides (left arm, right leg). Perform this 10-15 times per side, 1-3 times per day.
Here is a video showing you the cross crawl exercise:
Make a bridge with your body by going into push up (plank) position. Now, instead of being on your hands, bring yourself down onto your elbows. Keep your elbows at 90 degree angles and clasp your hands together. Bring your body into a straight line all the way from your head down to your toes. Keep your shoulders down and brace your core. Hold this position for 30 seconds and perform 1-3 times per day. And make sure to breathe!
Here is a link to a picture of what you should look like when performing the Plank exercise: http://www.sparkpeople.com/assets/exercises/Modified-Plank.gif
I hope you found this article helpful. As always, feel free to post any questions, comments, or experiences!
Author: Casey Campbell BSc., D.C.