The core muscles, is a collective term for a group of deeper muscles that help provide support to our spine. If strong and activated, they can also aid good posture, and so a better alignment body-wide. When you look at this from an Osteopathic point of view. You are trying to achieve as good as balance as possible in our body structure. If this is good, then the idea is that our body structure and the internal environment of our body will function properly.

How do you activate the core muscles?

I always explain this to people the way it has been explained to me in Pilates classes. I like to think “zip up and hollow”. “Zip up” refers to the pelvic floor. So think about raising this up, as if you were trying to stop yourself having a wee. “Hollow” refers to pulling your navel back towards your spine, so activating the lower abdominal muscles.

When you are performing most core muscle exercises. The idea is to use the contraction of these muscles to maintain your neutral spine. We all have different spinal curves, so our neutral spine position will be different too. In whatever position you are exercising in. It’s the point where your lower back is not too arched, but not too flattened with a level pelvis. So the mid-position between the two.

On a daily basis, its a good idea to try and achieve 25% contraction of these muscles. Once you have played around with this for a while, it will be easy to find where your 25% is. So day to day this is good practice. When you are doing a purposeful core exercise, or perhaps a more strenuous activity. It may be necessary to take this up to 100% contraction to achieve your neutral position whilst exercising. Or in strenuous activity, to help protect and prevent injury to your spine. But the muscles have to be strong to be able to help you in the first place, so practice!

Some exercises to try:

Hip abduction

Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Try and make sure your feet are in good alignment. Think about where your neutral spine is and maintain this position.

Whilst maintaining contact with the floor with your foot. Allow one knee to drop out to the side. Only go as far as you can whilst keeping a level pelvis and neutral spine position. Then return to normal. Repeat 5 times on each side.

It may be that you don’t go very far in the first instance. The exercise is about quality, not about how far your knee gets towards the floor. As you get stronger and more flexible, you will more than likely go further.

If this feels too easy, the exercise can be made more difficult by raising your feet off the floor, so the lower leg is parallel with the floor. Then repeat the exercise from this start position.

Kneeling arm/leg raises

From a kneeling position, knees under hips and hands under shoulders, think about your neutral spine. Start by extending one leg out behind you whilst maintaining your spinal curves. Return to the start position and extend the other leg out behind you. Repeat 5 times on each side.

You can challenge yourself more by extending one arm and the opposite leg at the same time. Then repeat with the opposite combination. Try 5 times on each side.

If you want to make it even more challenging. Then try the exercise extending the leg and the arm of the same side at once. Then repeat with the opposite side. Try 5 times to each side.

Leg extensions

Come back to laying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Raise your legs with knees bent, lower legs parallel to the floor (this is your start position for the exercise). Straighten one leg. Return to the start position. Then repeat with the other side. The nearer to the floor your leg is when you straighten it, the more challenging the exercise will be. So feel that you’re working the core muscles, but remember to maintain your spinal position. Try this one 5 to 10 times on each side.

Refer back to august’s post – the Dead Bug and Plank exercise are both useful core muscle activators.

Bits that caught my eye in the news!

Scientists have discovered that Parkinson’s disease may be picked up early by listening to someone’s voice. Further research is trying to identify if this could happen in a phone conversation. A computer programme is able to identify the tremors, breathiness and weakness in the voice that is characteristic of Parkinson’s changes. It may provide an early warning sign, so treatment could be given to slow the progress of the disease.

Back pain has gone technological! GP’s will be advised to recommend mobile phone apps. (which are cheap or free) to their patients to use. The thinking being that this will empower patients and reduce visits to GP surgeries. The charity BackCare has launched an android app. They are recommending this to the PCT’s. The app. provides latest information, videos and exercises.

It has been revealed that more than one million people in Britain may be suffering from constant, crippling headaches because they are taking too many painkillers. The pills people take to relieve headaches and migraines may be making things much worse, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
As many as 1 in 50 people suffer continual headaches because of “medication overuse”, NICE reports. The problem begins with taking the odd painkiller for tension headaches or migraines, which usually works. But some people take the pills more and more often, until they are on tablets for more than half the days in a month. NICE says that if this goes on for more than three months the medication ends up causing the problem it is intended to cure.

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