Lower back pain is one of the most common human conditions, and various causes exist. From impact injuries to degenerative conditions, there are a number of reasons you may be experiencing pain in your lower back. As any back pain sufferer will know, it restricts movement, causes pain and often prevents you from maintaining a full life. Weak core muscles can be a factor regardless of how your injury occurred or when the pain started.
You’ll notice that physiotherapists place a lot of emphasis on strengthening core muscles, and it’s for this very reason. Your core muscles include the abdomen, hips, pelvis and back, which play a crucial role in maintaining balance and stability. But perhaps more importantly, strengthening your core muscles can help alleviate back pain and prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Let’s look at the relationship between weak core muscles and back pain.
Understanding your core muscles
There is a popular misconception that your core muscles are just your abdominals. While they’re part of it, your core comprises all the muscles around the mid-section of your body. This complicated network of muscles wraps around your torso and connects the upper part of your body with the lower. Here are some of the muscles that make up your core:
- Rectus abdominis
- Transverse abdominis
- Erector spinae
The primary role of these muscles is to support your spine, encourage good posture, and allow for a full range of movement. When any of these muscles are weak or damaged, your spine and, therefore, your entire body can suffer.
How a weak core leads to low back pain
Simply put, if your core muscles are weak, they can’t support your spine correctly. As a result, the muscles in your lower back need to do more workthan they are capable of, often leading to strains and discomfort. A good way to test this for yourself is to stand on one foot. When you lose balance, try to engage your core muscles rather than grabbing something to hold yourself up. Tensing your abdominal area gives you almost instant stability. If this doesn’t occur, your core muscles may need strengthening.
Lower back pain can often worsen if your core muscles are weak, too. Remember, your core muscles also support good posture. When the muscles are weak, or you experience back pain, you tend to slouch or fall into poor posture to alleviate the pain. It’s a vicious cycle because poor posture only worsens your condition in the long run.
Your core muscles also serve as protection for your spine during activity. So, if you use incorrect lifting techniques or sit for long periods without good core muscle support, injuries occur more easily.
Recognising weak core muscles
Have you ever heard or thought that having a slim waist is the same as having strong core muscles? That’s a myth we can bust right here. People with slim waists can have weak core muscles, and people with larger waists can have very strong core muscles.
For many people, perhaps the first sign of a weak core is lower back pain. But there are other signs, such as poor posture, difficulty lifting or performing physical activities or a lack of balance while walking. Some people find that only specific movements cause discomfort, while others experience more chronic back pain.
If you notice any symptoms of weak core muscles, your first call should be to your physiotherapist. They can help to identify muscle weakness and implement a treatment plan to get them back up to strength.
Core strength and physiotherapy
Increasing core strength doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not about lifting a lot of heavy weights. Everybody can strengthen their core muscles regardless of age, fitness level or overall strength. As mentioned, your physiotherapist is best placed to identify and assess any core muscle issues you may have.
They can guide you through a series of exercises tailored to your needs, gradually building your core strength one step at a time. Overdoing these exercises can exacerbate the condition and make it more difficult to strengthen your core, so it’s crucial to follow your physio’s guidelines.
Some core muscles are harder to activate and strengthen than others. This is where a physiotherapist may also use ultrasound technology to help you. By viewing these deeper muscles on an ultrasound screen, you can more easily identify the movements required to strengthen your core. Over time, you can expect continued improvement, better stability and balance, and, most importantly, less back pain – or preferably none at all.
Need relief from lower back pain?
If you’re struggling with back pain and don’t know where to turn, physiotherapy could be for you. Here at MGS Physiotherapy, we offer tailored treatment plans for all types of injuries and conditions. Our trained physiotherapists work closely with you to improve mobility, relieve pain and strengthen core muscles for long-lasting benefits. Book an appointment now and learn how we can help manage your condition.