If you suffer from back pain, you might be happy to hear that you can play a central role in facilitating your body’s natural healing abilities to reduce the pain you experience. You can put your time and energy into changing your body, instead of trying multiple quick fixes that won’t work long term. You may have heard that strengthening your core can help your back, but that’s only part of the story. When you think of your core, you are probably picturing your ab muscles. While your abs are an important part of your core, so are the muscles in your back — particularly the multifidus muscles — an integral part of your core that is often overlooked. I call it the hidden core, and strengthening it can significantly reduce your back pain.
Your Hidden Core
Your core has an anterior (front) component, a posterior (back) component and two lateral (side) components. Each of these components has a superficial and deep layer. The anterior, lateral and posterior components are connected to each other by fascia (strong connective tissue) to form a belt. In our society we get too caught up in the muscles of the core we can see — like our oblique muscles for example — and forget about the hidden parts of our core that are equally as important. The core muscle group at your back is referred to as your posterior core. These muscles in combination with your visible core muscles, complete the internal brace you can use to build a stronger core.
Strengthening Your Hidden Core
Even though I am a neurosurgeon, I focus on noninvasive solutions for reducing back pain. In my book, The End of Back Pain, Access Your Hidden Core to Heal Your Body, I write about how we all can build a better back through a series of exercises I call the Hidden Core Workout. The hidden core workout is an exercise program that you can customize to fit your pace and confidence level. To understand why my stackable exercise program works, let’s dive a little deeper into what happens when you strengthen your hidden core.
The hidden core stabilizes the spine and fixes it to the pelvis, thereby reducing motion of the spine. The hidden core strengthens the muscles and the fascia themselves which helps reduce pain in these structures. So, if you remember one thing about your multifidus muscles, let it be this: They provide about 70 percent of the stiffness of the spine during straightening up from a bent position. In other words, if you develop your multifidus muscles, your spine should be able to remain relatively stiff when you move. This will minimize back pain. Strengthening your hidden core muscles leads to a stronger brace that helps you bend and keep a healthy posture, eases tension from your back, and protects the vertebrae of the lumbar spine. As you can see, you can empower yourself to play a starring role in your own healing. Here are eight more takeaways from my book, The End of Back Pain, Access Your Hidden Core to Heal Your Body.
- Deciding not to exercise due to back pain can actually make your pain worse.
- Exercise is a free and non-invasive solution that can mitigate your back pain.
- My Hidden Core Workout incorporates yoga stretches, planks, kettlebell and ab exercises that all work together to build your strongest and best back.
- Walking is therapeutic for many ailments, but running offers even more benefits to protect the back.
- Become an active participant in your own health care. Education is your best defense against back pain.
- Pain medication should not be the first choice and it often can lead to more pain.
- Your treatment if often determined by who you see (chiropractor, surgeon, or physical therapist) and not on what’s actually wrong with you. So, be careful of where you start and keep this inherent bias in mind. Listen to your own instincts, and be ready to change direction.
- Be open to noninvasive solutions first.
Empower yourself with information and you can strengthen your hidden core. Decrease the intensity, frequency and duration of your back pain and experience lasting relief.
© 2014 Patrick Roth, M.D., author of The End of Back Pain: Access Your Hidden Core to Heal Your Body