Core Strength for Back and Neck RehabMany rehab clinics and physical therapy offices are now administering "core strengthening programs" to their back and neck patients. These programs, which focus on the muscles of the abdomen and back, improve postural alignment. Core strength also contributes to the kind of body mechanics necessary for avoiding the back strain that may occur while engaging in daily chores, sports or dance. Benefits of core strength translate into pain relief, says Susan Eaton, yoga teacher and head of outpatient services at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. "Good posture habits encourage a healthy alignment of the bones and curves of the spine, and allow muscles to maintain their normal length."
What is "The Core"?Dr. Andre Panagos, sports medicine and spine specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, describes the body's core as "a pressurized cavity capable of supporting huge amounts of exertion", much more than the back muscles. Panagos points out that if everything but the bones of the spine were removed, and just 20 pounds were placed on top, the vertebral column would buckle and collapse. Muscles around this pressurized cavity provide more support for physical work than does the spinal column. The abdominals are key core muscles, but those in the pelvis and back play important roles as well.
Types of Core Strengthening ProgramsCore strengthening gives you strong, flexible trunk muscles that support well-aligned bones. Exercise programs for the core target the muscles located very close to the spine itself, as well as those in the pelvis.
These days core strengthening programs can be found in many forms and may be called by a variety of names including: Pilates, lumbar stabilization, cervical stabilization, core support and trunk exercises. Types of programs range from doctor-prescribed (stabilization programs) to personal training sessions and gym workouts (Pilates, yoga and abdominal routines).
Classes and Workouts for Core StrengtheningOutside the back clinic, a core strengthening program might take a general approach to abdominal development, or it may use highly refined mind-body techniques that employ breathing, body awareness, and ideal alignment along with the abdominal work. Finding a program and a teacher appropriate to your level of ability and for your injury or condition is imperative. Interview the instructor regarding certification, experience and expertise working with back and neck pain, and communication skills (including good listening skills). To avoid worsening an injury or condition, try to find a teacher who can recognize when it is appropriate for you to see a doctor or therapist, and is willing to refer you out.
Beware of Crunches
Panagos warns about doing ab crunches: "When you do crunches you are only working only in one plane. But the spine and its muscles are are three dimensional -- they go all the way around. That is where core strengthening, which are not ab crunches, can really help."
Core Strengthening Exercise - Stabilization and Dynamic StabilizationAs you advance, your skilled therapist or instructor will give you arm and/or leg movements that challenge the trunk to move. It will be your job to keep your trunk still, while performing them. This is is what trains the ab, back and other postural muscles to stabilize the spine.
After you have mastered the skill of a still torso, you can challenge yourself even further by performing the exercises lying on rounded pieces of equipment such as fit balls or foam rollers. This is known as dynamic stabilization.
Through stabilization and dynamic stabilization exercises, you will not only find yourself with a stronger core, but improved balance and coordination, as well.