Norton Shores Michigan Chiropractor - "Your back hurts? You've just got weak abs!"
As you sit at your desk in agony, this is the last thing you want to hear from the fake-tanned, self-proclaimed fitness guru in the cubicle next to you. However, he is not the only one repeatedly spouting this half truth. It is a common misconception in the health care and fitness world, even among "experts." Strong abs = no back pain. The premise is simple and seems to make sense, but when taken too far it will only set people up for failure. The reason is this: when most people think of 'abdominals,' they think of the rectus abdominis muscle, or the "six pack" we see on professional volleyball players, superheroes, and statues.
First of all, let's forget about back pain. I first want to address the notion that sit ups and crunches with help the rectus abdominis become more visible, producing that sought-after "washboard" stomach. This is a fallacy. The idea has been pushed by cheesy infomercial salesman for funky exercise equipment and ab-targeting exercise videos and ill-informed amateur personal trainers. The reality is that unless you have a healthy diet, a solid fitness plan, and an overall healthy lifestyle, even "strong" abdominal muscles will be forever bathed in a layer of fat, hiding them from the world. So people continue to eat nasty food and do endless sit-ups and crunches in order to look good (which doesn't work) while they ignore the muscles that do the most for helping them FEEL good. I'm talking, of course, about the CORE muscles. Technically, the rectus adbominis is a part of the core and it should be exercised, but there are other muscles that play a much bigger role in core stability and are often forgotten.
Transverse Abdominis (TVA): This is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It acts like a corset, wrapping around the torso from front to back and from the ribs down to the pelvis. This muscle stabilizes the pelvis and spine while the prime movers (quads, gluts, pectorals, etc.) perform their functions. Loss of coordinated contraction of the TVA leads to lower back injury. Anyone who has done Pilates knows all about this muscle! Exercise: Plank
External and internal obliques: These muscles aid in lateral bend and rotation of the spine. They also help to compress the abdomen and help protect the organs. They are the largest, thickest muscles of the core. Exercise: Side plank , Oblique cross crunch
Erector Spinae: This group of muscles travel along the entire spine, aiding in extension and lateral bend of the spine. This collection of three muscles also helps maintain posture and proper spinal curvature. They also stabilize the spine during flexion. Exercise: Back extension
Multifidus: This muscle runs along the back of the spine, deeper than the erector spinae. It aids in flexion, lateral bend, and rotation of the spine, as well also helping to maintain posture. Exercise: Bird dog, Bird Dog 2
The great thing is that the exercises listed work more than one part of the core.
Doing these exercises routinely will strengthen the core muscles and improve your overall spinal health. However, chronic muscle imbalance also has a lot to do with muscle tightness, as well.
Many people who have weak core muscles also have tight hip and trunk flexors. I will tackle that in a later post. But what if you're in acute pain? Exercises and stretches may aggravate your condition. In that case, all the exercise in the world is not going to realign a dysfunctional spine. If you are currently experiencing lower back pain that is caused by spinal or pelvic misalignments, chiropractic care may be just what you need to take the pressure off the nerves and joints and restore the proper biomechanics of your spine. Once the joints are stable, then a good core stability program will help to prevent problems from re-occurring.