The spine is made up of series of vertebrae (small bones) which allow movement in all directions. In daily life, work, and riding the spine must move and be a stable base on which the legs and arms move. The chain of spine joints and muscles must work together to allow movement and provide stability. Abdominal, back and hip muscles all contribute to stabilizing and controlling the trunk. Failure of the muscles to support the joints of the spine can contribute to spinal pain. Poor trunk stability can increase stress on the other joints (commonly the hip and shoulder) and cause pain, poor balance and decreased coordination.
The vertebra, small spinal muscles and deep abdominal muscles are a unit called the ‘core’. The muscles are multifidus, transverse abdominus, pelvic floor and diaphragm; together they form a canister around the spine and abdomen. They are responsible for achieving and maintaining neutral postural alignment and controlling the spinal position through all movements.These small, deep muscles control the movement of each vertebra. In contrast, the big muscles of the trunk (back extensors and surface abdominals) produce large powerful trunk movements and can pull the vertebra out of normal alignment.
Core stability training involves programming the body (brain/nerves) to activate the stabilizing muscles in a coordinated pattern before movement begins (anticipatory timing) and to keep them ‘on’ for postural control through all movements. This muscular control reduces stress on the spine, increases power in the arm and leg muscles and improves balance.
Activation of abdominal muscles in a sit-up type pattern does not strengthen the core or train the muscles to support the spine. Strengthening the superficial abdominal or back muscles alone is not nearly as effective as training the deep stability muscles to protect the spine.
Physiotherapy treatment for core muscle weakness can include:
- Spinal Mobilization/Manipulation
- Posture education and equestrian-specific exercise prescription
The key is to eliminate pain, release the large tight muscles and strengthen the core muscles.