Does a weak core cause low back pain? plus the 2 core exercises you need today.

Does a weak core cause low back pain?

If you have been experiencing back pain and are wondering if your core muscles may be the culprit, read on. The first thing you need to know is that low back pain can stem from a variety of causes; it’s important to rule out other possible reasons for the pain before jumping to conclusions. That said, there is some evidence that weak core muscles are associated with chronic lower back pain.

We all know that a strong core is essential for human movement. If your core isn’t strong, you can expect low back pain to be one of the consequences. We also know that it’s important for people who are experiencing low back pain to strengthen their cores with exercises like planks or crunches.

But does a weak core cause lower back pain? Or do these exercises help relieve pain because they give you stronger abdominal muscles and better posture?

The answer is that both are true! A weak core can lead to lower back pain, but strengthening your core will help alleviate the symptoms in some cases. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how a weak or unbalanced core could be causing your discomfort, how strengthening your core can lead to better posture, less pain and easier movement.

Chances are you have heard of ‘core’; you may have been told to engage it, though that yours was weak, or even that it is related to the injury or pain that you are in. But what actually is your core and why do people talk about it so much?

What exactly is your core?

It seems to be a current buzzword. A lot of people throw the term around without an actual understanding of what it is and what it means to activate or engage it. It is common to believe that your core is simply your abdominal or six-pack muscles, but it is actually a group of muscles (none of them responsible for beach aesthetics). 

Your core actually consists of four different muscles. These muscles all work together to stabilise your body, particularly around your low back, pelvis, and abdomen. Learning how to effectively activate these muscles and then strengthen them is important in creating a stable base for your body to work with. 

Let’s look a little closer at those four muscles.

Thoracic (breathing) diaphragm:

  • Where is it?
    • Sits underneath your rib cage
  • Dysfunction can show as:
    • Breathing excessively into your upper chest
    • Restricted movement or pain in your rib cage 
  • Good ways to help:

Pelvic floor:

  •  
  • what is my core and is it causing my back painWhere is it?
    • Sits at the bottom of your pelvis
  • Dysfunction can show as:
    • Urinary or fecal incontinence
    • Pelvic pain
  • Good exercises to help:
    • Practicing a ‘lift and hold’ (try to imagine you’re stopping yourself from going to the toilet, then hold this lift for 5 seconds, then release)

Transversus Abdominis:

 

  • Where is it?
    • Runs across ways around your abdomen like a belt
  • Dysfunction can show as:
    • Low back pain
    • Pelvic pain
  • Good exercises to help
    • Any spinal and pelvic stability exercises (as long as you are connecting to it properly!) For example bent knee fallouts. 
    • Learn how to here!

Multifidus:

  • Where is it?
    • Deep back muscle running between each spinal vertebrae
  • Dysfunction can show as:
    • Low back pain
    • Back pain
  • Good exercises to help:
    • 4-point kneeling exercises (featured by Ashlea if below) 

 

So, the core is made up of so much more than just abdominals. It also includes your lower back, pelvis and hips. So when people talk about a strong or weak core they are often referring to how tight these muscles can contract or whether certain muscles might be overused while others aren’t used enough. Strength in one part of the body may affect something else downstream- for example, if you have really good hip strength but weaker abdominal muscle tone it might cause low back pain because there is less support from those muscles that surround the spine.

 

Can your core actually become weak?

Yes, your core muscles can become weak from a variety of things- not just aging or the lack of use are some reasons why you might have a weaker core. For example, if you’ve had an injury to the area that caused pain for weeks and months at a time it’s likely those muscles became very sore so they lost strength during this period. If you’re recovering from surgery on your abdomen then it may be difficult to work in exercises because movement is limited but again these restrictions could contribute to the weakening of your supportive abdominal muscles.  And during pregnancy, the core muscles become stretched and weakened which can lead to chronic low back pain in women.

Does a weak core cause back pain?

Back pain can be caused by many different things.

If you have a weak core, that might be one of the contributors to your back pain. Your abdominals help support and stabilize your spine so if they’re weakened or not as strong then it can lead to an increased risk for low back pain.

Back pain doesn’t have just one cause, so it is important to seek out the help of a trained professional who can diagnoses what is causing your back pain. Plenty of people think that they have a weak core and try core strengthening exercises and it just makes their pain worse.

Just as a weak core can cause low back pain, so can a core that is too rigid. When your core becomes too rigid, the muscles are not as free to move and can lead to back pain.

It’s important for you to do a variety of stretches that will strengthen your abdominals in different ways while still being gentle on your spine.

Signs of Poor Core Strength

If you experience any of the following symptoms you may have poor core stability:

  • Back pain
  • Trouble making it to the toilet in time
  • Reduced Sports Performance:
  • Weak stomach muscles
  • Poor balance
  • A “collapsing” technique eg running or landing
  • Slower times
  • Less power
  • Increased injuries, aches and pains around the body especially hip knee and shoulder

 

How to test your core strength at home?

There is one simple test that you can do that can indicate whether your core is weak or not.

The boat hold is a great test for your core strength.  You should be able to hold this pose for at least 30 seconds AND KEEP BREATHING – Do not hold your breath.  If you have to hold your breath it means your diaphragm muscle is having work too hard instead of your pelvic floor and the other core muscles.

test for core strength boat pose

What are 2 of the best beginner exercises to strengthen your core for low back pain?

Here are Ashlea’s two favourite core exercises to work all parts of your core!

Kneeling swim/bird-dog: a great way to challenge core stability from the 4-point position

Chest lift: will challenge the whole abdominal wall, and stability and strength of the core is important to good form

So why is your core important?

There is a lot of study going into core strength and how a lack thereof may be related to different injuries or issues such as low back pain, hip pain, pelvic pain. It may cause other muscles to overwork to stabilise your centre and joints to become incorrectly loaded which can cause pain and discomfort. Whether it is running, going to the gym, playing a sport, or even just normal daily activities, having a strong core creates a solid foundation for the rest of your body to work and move more effectively. 

It is important to note that while people may engage their core muscles in day-to-day life without even knowing, having some awareness of how to consciously and effectively activate these muscles is where a professional comes in. Our osteopaths and physiotherapists can assess how you activate your core and correct or teach you the right technique, and even some exercises to strengthen it!

 

Why is pilates the best if you have a weak core and back pain?

 

Pilates Improves Core Strength

Pilates Supports Good Posture

Pilates Increases Muscle Flexibility

Pilates teaches you to move your body with control.

When the core is strong and flexible, the frame of the body is supported. The neck and shoulders can relax, and the rest of the muscles and joints are free to do their jobs (but don’t have to do more). A tight core can also help you learn how to pull your abs in to get the most out of many exercises.

 

Is Pilates safe for people with back pain?

pilates is safe for people with back pain especially when you do clinical pilates with a trained physiotherapist or osteopath, as they are experts in the area of back pain and pilates.

More research is needed, but there is evidence to suggest that pilates can be very helpful for people who have lower back pain, whether or not their core is the cause of their back pain.

Regular pilates practice can help with posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility. It can also relieve stress and tension.

What are the risks of Pilates for people with back pain?

the risks of pilates for people with back will vary between the type of pilates. there are many types ranging from gentle at-home pilates moves to HIT style pilates on reformers. It’s important to talk to your doctor and pilates instructor about the type of pilates that will work best for you.

 

What is the most common risk of Pilates? If there are any risks, they would be unique to each individual person. You should consult with a physio or osteo before beginning any exercise program or activities if you currently have back pain. If you are pain-free and you just want to get stronger – start slow and gradually build up whilst listening to your body.

 

How to get started with clinical Pilates?

You can get started today with the experts in clinical pilates for back pain and save $200 on our introductory packs

find out more and claim your discount here

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