If you are suffering from low back pain, you are not alone. Studies show that 80% of people will have low back pain in their lifetime and at any given moment 31 million Americans will be experiencing this pain. In fact, low back pain is the leading cause of disability throughout the world. Although low back pain is common, there are several things you can do to prevent it’s occurrence or more quickly recover if already injured. Core training is one of the most effective means of both prevention and recovery.

Core muscles are important dynamic stabilizers that protect your spine against high forces which may be damaging and lead to injury. Bending, lifting and twisting can place forces up to 275% of normal pressure through the discs of your spine, and this is increased even more with added weight. This muscle group is also responsible for maintaining your spine and pelvis in an optimal neutral position for daily activities, limiting stresses through the joints at end range.

As important as core strength is, there is still much confusion about what the “core” is and how to train it. Your core is more than just 6-pack abs. Instead, it is a combination of abdominals, back and hip muscles that work in conjunction to stabilize your mid-section. The deeper layer, considered your “local stabilizers”, consist of the transversus abdominis in the front and the multifidi in the back. These muscles are close to the spine and give specific stability. They are built for endurance, designed to be firing for an extended time throughout the activity. Research shows it is also important for these muscles to engage before you perform a movement to prevent injury or pain. The more superficial layer of muscles, or “global muscles”, are bigger with longer lever arms, designed to move your body. These include your rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscle), obliques, glutes and erector spinae. These muscles are “fast twitch” which means they cannot engage as long as the endurance muscles but are stronger. Additional muscles around the trunk that are also involved in stability and movement patterns include your diaphragm, hip flexors, and pelvic floor muscles. All of these muscles must work correctly together with sufficient strength and endurance to properly support your body for functional tasks.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to core training. First, research shows endurance is more important than pure strength. This means exercises that are performed at higher reps or held for a longer time will be most beneficial in supporting you for the duration of activities throughout the day. Next, the timing of recruitment of these muscles is crucial. It is important to training the neuromuscular system to engage your local muscles prior to movement in order to prevent injury. Lastly, common exercises including full sit-ups and back extensions place high pressure through the spine and may put you at risk of injury. There are several other safe, effective exercises that can be done as alternates to achieve the desired results.

Prevention is important when it comes to low back pain because of the high re-occurrence rate. If not already doing so, start your core training regimen now to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you already have low back pain, a Physical Therapist will be able to assess your specific impairments and design an effective program for recovery and future prevention. They will also be able to guide you in finding the most appropriate posturing for your spine, teach you correct functional movement patterns with daily tasks, perform manual therapy and apply modalities as needed for optimal recovery.

Don’t be a statistic. Protect your back today!