Do we need to worry about our core strength?
I don’t know how many times I hear people say, “I really need to work on my core strength”', or “my trainer says I need to activate my core more”.
Do we really need to be so obsessed with our core? How important is a strong core and good posture in avoiding back pain and stiffness?
We’ve developed a fear for movement, including lifting and loading when it comes to our backs. This fear in itself is now recognised as being a large contributor to back injury and pain.
According to Professor Peter O’Sullivan, a specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist, “there is no evidence to show that constantly contracting the core muscles and keeping the spine straight prevents or cures back pain”.
Constant switching on, engaging, and activating the abdominals, (or any muscles), can lead to muscle stiffness and pain. Any posture which is held for extended periods of time is unnatural. Sitting at a desk in front of the computer for 8+ hours a day is as bad for the body as standing at a standing desk for 8+ hours a day. The key is to keep the body moving, think more along the lines of ‘your best posture is your next posture’.
Our body is made for movement; the cessation of movement over the years is our worst enemy. When do we lose the ability to swing along the money bars, or do a handstand like we did effortlessly as kids? There is no reason for us to not be able to do these movements as we get older, it is our cessation and fear of movement that stops us.
Our backs are strong and made for movement and loading on a daily basis. It is important to keep it, and our body strong, in order for our movements to be free and flowing rather than rigid and apprehensive.
Core strength training is very popular nowadays but the evidence does not back it up. Even one of the few studies favouring the importance of core strength concluded that, “general and lumbar muscle strengthening are equally effective as other active treatments,” and it is “more promising” to study “the interplay between biological, social and psychological factors.”(1)
The take home message
There is no scientific evidence that strengthening and/or isolating your core will avoid back pain or injury. The key to avoiding back pain is regular exercise (including weight-bearing & full body strength exercises), varied and regular daily movement, and maintaining a healthy wellbeing (including mental health, diet and sleep).
No exercise is better than another when it comes to back pain; it’s the exercise you do that counts!
(1). Smeets RJ, Wade D, Hidding A, et al. The association of physical deconditioning and chronic low back pain: a hypothesis-oriented systematic review. Disabil Rehabil. 2006 Jun;28(11):673–693. PubMed #16809211