Strong Core for Back Pain

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By now, most would have heard about "core strength" and "engaging ones core".  If you think of your core as being the centre of your body, then having a strong core would help support the structures of the body.  Adding core strenghtening exercises to your exercise routine has been shown to protect and prevent back injuries and aches. 

What Is My "Core"?

The major muscles that move, support and stabilize your spine are called the muscles of the core.  This "core” is  made up of several groups of muscles. Major core muscles include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. 

Engaging these muscles is not something that we tend to do consciously, unless we learn how to.  Doing so does indeed makes sense.  Imaging getting youself ready to be pushed by someone.  Would you stand with your feet together, or with them apart and knees bent? The latter obviously, because it gives you greater stability.  Likewise, if you are bending over to lift something heavy, engaging your "core" muscles would help support and keep you back stable, thus preventing injury. 

When engaging your core, the goal is to create a solid a ring of muscles around your mid-section. To achieve this, push your midsection muscles out to form a stiff, wide cylinder of muscle support. DO NOT suck in your abs or belly button.  Here are a few ways to get the feel for it:

  • Tense up your abdominal muscles outward as if bracing yourself for a punch to abdomen. 
  • Your core naturally engages just before you cough or laugh.   you’re looking for that abdominal activation that takes place just before any cough or laugh actually occurs.
  • Or rest your hands on either side of your abdomen and try to push them away using only your abdominal muscles.

It may be a little tricky at first but with regular practice, it will becomes second nature.

It's important to include exercises that work on all of your abdominal muscles equally. Core exercises should involve the major muscles of your abdomen, which would include your internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominals.

Here are 3 simple ones to start off with.  Remember to listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, stop immediately.

The Elbow Plank

Get into the push-up position. Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.  Engage your core muscles during the entire movement.

Hold this position for 30 seconds, release, and repeat 3 times.  

(Image by: Suanie

Abdominal Crunches

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Place your hands behind your head with your fingers interlaced.  Keep your elbows wide to your sides.  Inhale, then as you exhale, use your abdominal muscles to slowly raise your head, neck, and upper back off the floor.  Inhale as you slowly lower your upper body to the floor, and repeat.

Do 3 sets of 10 abdominal crunches daily.


Get into a high plank position. Place your hands firmly on the ground, directly under shoulders. 
Keeping a straight back, lower your body to the floor by slowly bending your elbows until they're at 90 degrees. Push back up using the strength of your arms, upper back, and chest muscles, and repeat.

Do 3 sets of 10 push-ups every day. 

By doing the above core exercises every day, you'll notice your core strength improving, and this in turn leads to overall body strength.

In addition, there are certain types of exercise such as Yoga or Pilates, that can help you improve core strength.

If you experience increased pain while doing any of the core strengthening exercises, stop and speak to your doctor or physical therapist immediately.

Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.