The core connection is real. That is, the connection between a strong core and a healthy, pain free back. But while in theory strengthening our core muscles is the right thing to do, there’s nuance to executing core exercises to avoid back pain.
If you’re one of the 3.7 million of us who experience weekly back pain you know that, no matter what is causing the condition, it can cause significant impacts on your life. Often, when you seek treatment for back pain – as about 16 percent do each year – it’s advised that a stronger core will help alleviate your pain.
So what happens when this tried and true approach to managing back pain actually exacerbates the discomfort? Can weak abs cause back pain? Yes, they absolutely can – but the fact that sometimes overactive abdominals can cause lower back pain also can’t be ignored.
At The Brisbane Spine Clinic, our focus is supporting your spine – and that includes ensuring that your lower back is short lived. Below, we’ll unpack how ab workouts can cause back pain and provide both at home and in clinic solutions.
Focus on a strong core, not a six-pack
One of the common misconceptions, that can lead to lower back pain, is that the strength of your core is directly correlated to your six-pack. While having a chiselled tummy is admirable, and no doubt an achievement, overactive abdominals can cause lower back pain.
To move efficiently, our bodies need a balance of muscle strength and muscle length around each joint. If your muscles are strong, but not long it reduces the flexibility in the joints that they support. This tightness can lead to reduced flexibility for your spine, aggravating your back.
The core unit
Your core is a group of muscles that work together to stabilise your pelvis and your spine. While the core is made up of four individual, major muscles, we must treat them as a unit to avoid lower back pain.
The four major muscles commonly referred to as the ‘core’ are:
- The diaphragm (breathing muscle)
- The transversus abdominis (deep abdominal muscles)
- The multifidus (deep back muscles)
- The pelvic floor muscles
At The Brisbane Spine Clinic, we recommend a core workout routine that is a balance of exercises that target each of these muscles – rather than exercises that focus exclusively on developing rock hard abs. To avoid back and abdominal muscle pain, we need to take a full body approach to working out.
When we focus solely on building our obvious six-pack muscles, it can be as detrimental to our backs as sitting at a desk all day without moving. The connection between our abdominals and back pain is a result of a “core imbalance” – a tightening of your core to the point where your posture, movement and breathing are impacted.
If ab exercises cause lower back pain, should I stop doing them?
If you are experiencing lower back pain then perhaps consider the types of exercises you are doing to strengthen your core and your technique (this is something we can support you with).
Many exercises that claim to strengthen your core are taught incorrectly (“suck your tummy in,” “stiffen your spine and keep it straight,” “tense your tummy”) and can lead to overactive abdominal muscles.
What can I do to avoid lower back and abdominal pain?
As always, prevention is better than cure – so a whole body approach to your workouts is recommended – for example, Yoga and Pilates classes focus on strengthening your core as a unit.
If you’re suffering from lower back and it is an ongoing issue, consider making an appointment with us at The Brisbane Spine Clinic . Our physiotherapists will teach you how to activate your core muscles correctly to avoid back pain.
In addition to teaching you exercises and stretches that you can do at home, we may also use manual therapy to reduce muscle tightness, joint stiffness and nerve tension.
During your appointment at The Brisbane Spine Clinic, we might help you with:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Hip joint flexibility exercises
- Lower limb muscle stretches
- Core control exercises
- Gluteal muscle and stability strengthening
We’ll work with you to get to the root of the pain you are experiencing.