The Core: What is it?

You can\’t open up a web page or a fitness magazine without seeing the word \’core\’ and reading articles written about the core.  Unfortunately most people do not understand exactly what the core is and how vital it is for us to function pain free, be it in our everyday lives or during exercising.  Having a strong core is the foundation to having a healthy body.

Most people think that the core is just the abdominals and therefore just think that doing sit ups works the core.  Or another popular exercise is the ab machine at the gym where you prop yourself up with your arms and lift your legs up.  There are many things inherently wrong with these.  Sit ups generally will work the hip flexor muscles more than the abdominals.  And the one where your legs hang down at the gym, people tend to use momentum more to perform this exercise than actual abdominal strength and you also still run into the issue of working your hip flexor muscles more than your abdominals.

So what exactly is the core then?  The core is also called the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.  It involves the lumbar spine (lumbo), the pelvis and the hips.  In total the core consists of 29 muscles.  Some of the major ones are the latissimus dorsi, the rectus and transverse abdominus, the gluteus medius, the gluteus maximus and the hamstring muscles.

Why is the core so important?  The core is important because it essentially allows for the absorption of forces from all directions and therefore allows the body to move.  Every time you take a step there is force being absorbed through your body.  A strong core allows for the maintaining of the alignment of the bones and ligaments and for them muscles to be used properly.  Without a strong core, the body will absorb forces at inappropriate spots.  For example, let\’s take when someone is walking or jogging without a strong core.  Every time you take a step you see your knee wobble in, be it very obvious or ever so slightly.  This means that the core is weak and not absorbing forces correctly and not able to stabilize properly.  So what happens is this quick shift of the knee can cause a breakdown of the cartilage or meniscus of the knee and you can wind up with a meniscus tear.  Having a strong core would allow for the stabilization of the back, hips and knees and not allow for that knee to jut inwards, saving you pain and possible surgery.

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One of the things I commonly hear is, \”I go to the gym and exercise and that should work my core.\”  Unfortunately however, very few people do exercises that work their core when at the gym.  Just hopping on a piece of exercise equipment does not constitute working the core.  There are specific exercises that need to be done in order to do that and the ones that need to be done are usually the exercises people detest.  It is a good rule of thumb that if you detest the exercise, generally it is a weak spot and you should add more exercises like those.  For examples of exercises to be done for the core you can click here and refer to one of my earlier blogs.

Physical therapy can also help train the core.  Physical therapy can help work on the core and physical therapy should work on training the core, whether it is a knee or a back problem because training the core is imperative for the whole body to recover.  Whether injured or not a physical therapist can show you proper exercises to train the core.

Many injuries, sports related and not, are caused from a weak core.  Low back pain patients typically have a weak core and you do not need to do that many exercises in order to strengthen the core.  Don\’t you think that doing just a few exercises for the few muscles that keep the entire body working in symmetry is worth it?

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