How a Strong Core Affects Spinal Mobility
By: Stephanie Ruopp
Think about this. How much time do you spend each day commuting to and from work?
What about the hours you log at your desk or on the couch?
For many – if not most – of us, the combined hours we spend driving and then engaged with our televisions and/or devices is wreaking havoc on our posture.
That’s because these activities involve prolonged sitting. And sitting for such long spans of time puts huge demands on the thoracic spine. This is especially true if it has to compensate for a weak core.
The result? A curved thoracic spine. And if that curve becomes permanent, it will greatly reduce the mobility of your spine.
So clearly, a strong core affects spinal mobility.
The Different Segments of the Spine
The anatomy of the spine is divided into three major sections: the cervical, thoracic, and the lumbar spine.
The section of the spine that runs through the neck is called the cervical spine and it’s comprised of seven vertebrae.
Underneath the cervical spine is the thoracic spine, which we mentioned above. This is the “middle back” and the section where the ribs attach to the spine. The thoracic spine has 12 vertebrae.
The lower back is known as the lumbar spine and it has five vertebrae. At the very bottom of the spine is the sacrum – a bone that’s in the pelvic girdle but often considered a part of the spine’s anatomy.
How the Segments Move
Without getting too technical, the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back) have the widest range of motion. In other words, they’re the “bendiest.”
The thoracic spine, on the other hand, is a little more compromised because of its connection with the ribs. Bending backward and lateral (side to side) movements are going to be more limited.
Still, the thoracic spine should naturally have about 45 to 60 degrees rotation. But if that thoracic spine is not supported with a strong core, many people will not get that kind of rotation there.
In these cases, the burden falls to the lumbar spine to do all that rotation. And that’s not really what it’s meant to do. So then what happens?
Back Pain becomes a Part of Life
And nobody wants that. Ever.
But back pain that’s not severe or connected with a mishap or injury to the spine may be in big part the result of a weak core.
Consider your abs as the front anchor of your spine. If you have a weak anchor, then all of the other structures that support your spine will have to work harder. This includes the back muscles. And if those back muscles become strained or injured, it’s going to be much more difficult to move your spine.
So a Lack of a Strong Core Affects Spinal Mobility
Here’s the thing. The human body is always working toward homeostasis. It will do whatever is necessary to stay in balance.
For example, if your right leg is weaker than your left, then your left leg will compensate to make up for that weakness on the right side. Or if your left hip is more open than your right hip, then your left hip is going to overwork to balance the tightness in the right.
The same can be said for a strong back, but a weak core. If your abs are flaccid, what part of your body is going to feel the tension in order to maintain that homeostasis? (If you said your back, you’re right. Even if it is strong.)
That’s why abdominal work through core stability and stabilization exercises like those in Pilates is so important for spinal strength and mobility.
By focusing on stability and strength through the core, the cervical and thoracic regions of the spine are going to relax. And then the lumbar spine will no longer have to compensate.
Is It Time to Boost Your Core Strength?
Now that you know that how a strong core affects spinal mobility, do you feel that you could benefit from building more strength there?
Our Pilates instructors will focus on the major muscles in your abdomen – including your internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominals. As you build more core strength, you’ll start to feel how it builds overall body strength too!
You may also want to work with a physical therapist who can develop a specific exercise plan that involves core strengthening and flexibility exercises to keep your spine healthy, mobile and strong.
Get started today!