Updated: May 7
Learn what exactly are the core muscles, why core strength is so important to prevent lower back pain, & few simple & effective core & lower back exercises.
WHAT DOES 'CORE MUSCLES' MEAN?
‘CORE MUSCLES’ is one of those workout spell words that echo enigmatically in your head each time you walk into the gym, yoga studio or a therapy room. Nonetheless, unless you took a specialised workshop, no one has ever explained what those core muscles were exactly - and, no, it's not just 'abs' and 'gluts'!
The core muscles are mutually dependent groups of muscles that have an important function. For the sake of remembering and learning where are the core muscles in the body, I have grouped them and gave them a name that’s easy to remember:
1. P – PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES
2. D – DIAPHRAGM
3. I – INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL OBLIQUES
4. E – ERECTOR SPINAE AND MULTIFIDUS
5. T – TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS
WHY ARE CORE MUSCLES SO IMPORTANT?
The main function of the P-DIET as a group is to stabilise the spine and the trunk. If P-DIET is strong and supple, it keeps the spine it in an anatomically correct position and allows maximum healthy movement of the head and limbs. That's why core exercises are great to prevent and ease lower back pain.
P-DIET’s other function is, together with a ribcage and hip bone, to make a protective and supportive ‘container’ for your heart, lungs, and digestive system. In my next blog posts, I will analyse P-DIET muscles one by one and provide an exact set of core exercises. But to start with, let’s have a short look at those core muscles individually, their function, location, and the main objectives for the exercise.
1. PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES
FUNCTION: The Pelvic floor muscles support the pelvic floor organs, stabilise connecting joints, and act as a venous and lymphatic pump for the pelvis. Trigger points on this part of the core muscles can cause pain in the pelvic area.
EXERCISE OBJECTIVES: Try to Tone and increase blood, oxygen and nutrient flow to the pelvic area in order for pelvic floor muscles to be strong and supple. Yoga has plenty of pelvic floor exercises to offer in order for these muscles to be strong and elastic.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES:
Try Yoga and Pilates!!! These disciplines have plenty of pelvic floor exercises to offer. (Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like some recommendations for yoga and pilates teachers & classes in London)
Try these simple exercises you can do anywhere anytime
Watch the video below for 5 Simple and effective core exercises for pelvic floor muscles to do it in the comfort of your home!
FUNCTION: The diaphragm separates the lungs and the heart from the digestive organs, it is a passage for two of the most important blood vessels: vena cava and aorta, and, most importantly, together with intercostal muscles of the rib cage, it is the core muscle that does the breathing for us: due to this muscle contracting and relaxing we are inhaling and exhaling oxygen!
EXERCISE OBJECTIVES: Train all of your "breathing" muscles to assist the diaphragm.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN THE DIAPHRAGM:
Stretch the muscles of the ribcage and abdominals. This will create more room inside the ribcage to accommodate the lungs and will allow the diaphragm to really relax during exhalation.
Practice deep 'abdominal' breathing to engage those deep core muscles that are situated below the diaphragm - when they are strong, they will assist the diaphragm during inhalation by pulling it towards the pelvis and away from the ribs. (Watch the video below and try now!)
Jin and restorative yoga are perfect for both deep breathing and a good stretch!
3. INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL OBLIQUES
FUNCTION: The internal and external obliques flex the trunk laterally, protect internal organs of the abdomen area and assist the diaphragm at exhalation.
EXERCISE OBJECTIVES: Strengthen the muscle tissue, but also release and lengthen the fascia, so that the three overlapping layers of muscles (transverse abdominals, internal oblique, rectus abdominis and external obliques can function well together as well as separately. Fascia can be effectively released by certain massage techniques, and is a great addition to core strengthening exercises, as it will allow the muscles to contract more effectively.
HOW TO SELF-MASSAGE THE OBLIQUES:
4. ERECTOR SPINAE AND MULTIFIDUS
FUNCTION: It keeps the spine upright and maintains the anatomically correct position of the vertebral column, preventing lower back pain.
EXERCISE OBJECTIVE: Aim for the golden middle between strength and flexibility. The openings between vertebrae are passages for important nerves and vessels, therefore if the postural muscles of the spine are hypertonic, the compression can occur. We also want the spine to be flexible and allow a maximum of healthy movement.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN AND RELEASE ERECTOR SPINAE:
Swimming is a really great exercise to strengthen these core muscles. To release the erector spine and multifidus try the self-release below... or come to visit us at the clinic for a deep tissue massage and we'll take care of it!
5. TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS
FUNCTION: It provides thoracic and pelvic stability, besides stability of the trunk, thus strengthening the back and preventing lower back pain.
EXERCISE OBJECTIVES: Although it’s not easy to find ways to ‘feel’ those deepest muscles of the trunk muscle, learn to effectively engage them, as they can provide most strength in weight lifting and weight-bearing of all of the abdominal muscles.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS:
A mixture of vinyasa yoga (especially the vinyasa part of it) and strategic weight lifting is the answer. Check the video below to learn how to do a vinyasa flow! It only takes 5 minutes!
CORE STRENGTH AND LOWER BACK PAIN
WHY ARE CORE MUSCLE SO IMPORTANT TO PREVENT LUMBAR STRAIN?
Research shows that one of the leading causes of lower back pain is a weak core musculature.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN CORE MUSCLES WITHOUT HURTING THE LOWER BACK?
Try the exercises that we have proposed in this article! They will help you to build solid lumbar support in a gentle and safe way, promoting better posture as well as reducing stress on the lower back.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO KEEP YOUR LOWER BACK STRONG AND HEALTHY?
While core & lower back exercises are fundamental and it is the only way to strengthen muscles, it is also important to stretch and relax those muscles that have become shortened due to 'bad posture'.
Try to maintain a balance of strength and flexibility between the lower back and the abdominal muscles. That’s why we recommend both massage and exercise.
Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011 found that weekly massage therapy for 10 weeks relieved patients’ lower back pain and improved functioning at least as effective as medication and exercise. The upside is that massage therapy has no side effects, unlike meds. The effects continued to last up to 3 months after the study ended.
Massage therapy can effectively help to loosen the core muscles, alleviate spasms and muscle soreness, which all can lead to lower back pain & tightness.
A good therapeutic massage which combines deep tissue, positional release and stretching techniques (like Shiatsu and Thai massage) will bring the musculature into balance and release the trigger points associated with the discomfort.
As a massage therapist, I am particularly passionate about assisting people with lower back pain problems. As I was born with a mild malformation of the spine (Scoliosis), which used to cause me severe lower back pain, I understand very well this type of discomfort and what to do in order to alleviate it. Massage therapy, yoga and exercise have truly changed my approach to health and I am here to help you and share with you how to get rid of this chronic physical discomfort for good!
Remember to Always listen to your body!
If you feel pain or discomfort while performing any of these exercises, or within 72 hours of exercising, please cease performing these exercises and consult your doctor.
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We hope you now have a better idea of what is the meaning behind core muscles, & why core strength is so important to prevent lower back pain.