Core Strength: The Controversy Continues

You wouldn’t think that there would possibly be a controversy about core strength, because core strength is always good. Or is it? But after posting my last article regarding core strength, I found a fascinating article pointing out the pros and cons of core strength, especially on how it relates to back pain. The author made several excellent points. I highlighted just a few which captured my attention, which I would like to elaborate on for further consideration.

1).Our spines were designed to move.

Amen to that, brothers and sisters! Our spines are made to move: forward, backward, side to side and in rotation. Yes, even in rotation. Some practitioners refer to rotation as ‘twisting,” which makes me cringe in horror, since it conjures up an image of someone wringing out a wet dishrag. Hmmm, not exactly a model for a healthy spine. Twisting involves a compression of our spine, causing strain, stress, and injury. Rotation occurs with a lengthening of the spine which is so important for a healthy, flexible spine.

2). Years of core strength exercises could make back pain worse.

Can I hear a hallelujah! From my own personal experience, I can certainly attest to that! After years of ballet and Pilates, I had an iron cast core, with abdominal muscles that you could bounce a quarter off of, and butt muscles that were so fired up I could crack walnuts with them. Hmmm, not exactly something that would look good on a resumé, but I sure was proud of myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t functional, and movement has to go somewhere. The movement in my spine and hips was so restricted that my SI joint had to take the brunt of everything I did. Oooops. The result was an insidious onset of low back pain that rendered me incapacitated and a chronic pain patient for two and a half long, miserable years.

3). Core stability exercises are easy to teach.

Interesting. Since the article focuses specifically on the fitness industry, I would have to agree that yes, it’s easy to teach core exercises. As a matter of fact, it’s easy to teach any exercise. However, it is far more challenging to teach someone how to move properly during an exercise or movement pattern. It takes a sophisticated level of training, education, and skill to help people move with thoughtful attention. Otherwise, you can end up like I did, desperately seeking help from incapacitating back pain. In my own defense, I have to say I wasn’t a physical therapist or a Feldenkrais practitioner at the time, so I hadn’t a clue how to help myself. However, when I look back on it, it’s incredible how many of the “experts” were still trying to strengthen a core that was already so pathologically tight my muscle fibers felt like piano wire.

4). Relaxing your muscles around your trunk when you have back pain is a more helpful.

Right on! Actually, relaxing your muscles is always helpful, even if you don’t have back pain. Any unnecessary muscle tension can restrict the movement of our joints, limit the flow of blood to our muscles, cause our nerve fibers to get over-excited (and not in a good way), and eventually lead to pain and dysfunction. Muscles must be able to relax as well as contract. The ability to soften and relax a muscle is just as important as the ability to strengthen a muscle. It’s about fine-tuning our entire musculo-skeletal system, and finding the dynamic tension and balance between the muscles, skeleton and nervous system.

When it all comes together, magic happens. We can move more easily and effortlessly as we also build strength, flexibility, and balance. It’s a beautiful thing, this human body of ours, don’t you agree?      


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