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5 Signs Your Core is Weak – And What You Should Do About It!

A strong, healthy core is important for our health and posture. When your core is strong and working properly, you will have less back pain, better posture, and will move with more ease and endurance.  But how do you know if your core strength is where it needs to be? I can tell you that chiseled abs, a thin waist, or the ability to do a hundred sit-ups are NOT reliable signs of a strong core. Instead, here are five signs to know if your core is weak and what you can do about it:

1. Your Back Hurts

The most common side effect of a weak core is back pain, and yet most people still don’t consider core strengthening as a way to address those problems. Your core’s job is to support your spine and act as the center from which all movement stems. If those muscles are not properly conditioned – meaning, if they aren’t conditioned to engage when they are supposed to – your spine is at risk for being overworked, and muscular strain and tension are inevitable. The pain will most likely occur in your lower back, but can even occur in your neck, making simple tasks like bending, lifting, and walking totally miserable for you.

2. You Have Poor Balance

This may not be an obvious one – but one of the main culprits of poor balance is a weak core!  Your core muscles help to stabilize your pelvis, and a stable pelvis allows you to have better balance.  If the muscles around your pelvis (particularly your hips and glutes) are weak, then your balance will undoubtedly be affected. This may not be an issue that you notice right away.  But next time you’re walking across an icy driveway, you’re going to wish that your balance was at 100%. We incorporate Pilates into our physical therapy practice because it is such an effective whole-body strengthening system that can really make a huge difference in core strength and balance. A strong, coordinated, and engaged core helps you to react to balance challenges more efficiently, and may prevent that next fall!

3. You slouch all the time

Most people struggle to maintain good posture when they have a weak core. It becomes so easy to slouch, and you may not even realize you’re doing it.  Observe your posture right now… Are your shoulders rolled forward? Is your low back missing its natural curve? Is your head poked forward? When you go to correct your posture, does it feel difficult or tiresome to maintain? If so, your core might need some endurance-training!  A lot of people will argue that core strength has nothing to do with your posture. But here’s the thing, a strong core makes it easier and more natural to have good posture, and when better posture becomes effortless, it starts to become your norm. Your whole body – especially your spine – will thank you.

4. Your feet and wrists hurt

Many of our clients come to see us with an initial complaint of foot pain (also known as plantar fasciitis) or wrist pain. It keeps coming back no matter how many times they get rid of it or go to physical therapy. Sound familiar? When you have a weak core, and lack the proper central support and stability you need, your outer muscles and joints will eventually suffer. We already talked about balance. If your core isn’t working to help you stay more stable, your feet will have to work harder, resulting in overtaxing of the tissue on the bottom of your foot. If your middle back can’t support you when you’re pushing or pulling, your wrists will take the brunt and this can result in stiffness or pain over time. If you’ve got any chronic problem that isn’t getting resolved over time, something is missing. In the case of your wrists and feet – it may be a sign of a weak core!

5. You’re always holding your breath 

If you’re always being reminded to breathe when you move or exercise, this is another sign that your core is weak and not working properly. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but your deep core is made up, in part, of your diaphragm, which is your main breathing muscle.  When your core lacks stability, or in most cases, doesn’t know how to engage in the right way to give you the stability it needs, your diaphragm will contract to compensate. One of the most tell-tale signs that this is happening is that you always hold your breathe during exercise. This is probably one of the most overlooked signs of a weak core, and one of the most difficult to correct! It’s why we’ve dedicated an entire module to this topic in our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program, and it’s one of the most important things we work on with every single client as we prepare them to confidently return to exercise.

If any of these signs seem familiar to you, then you might want to start paying more attention to strengthening your core! But don’t just start doing sit-ups or planks haphazardly and expect good core strength to follow. Being able to do sit-ups and planks are the RESULT of good core strength. You must first learn how to strengthen your core properly. We’ve got an entire 8-week Pilates program designed to help people do exactly this – and we offer it three times per year!

Click here to see when enrollment opens for our next program.

Five Ways to Keep Your Back from Going Out this Holiday Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful, relaxing time, but the reality is that sometimes it’s much more stressful than we’d like. Between family gatherings, shopping, travel, and the disruption of your normal routine, it can be easy for your back to suffer. Here are our tips for staying pain-free this holiday season!

1. Don’t Sit or Stand Too Long

Experts agree that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to overall health and well-being. Staying still for too long will make you stiff and could eventually lead to muscle spasms and cause injury. Take time during those long family meals to get up and walk around.  Too much sitting, in particular, has become widely known to cause problems with your back and eventually lead to debilitating episodes.  Read more about that here.

2. Minimize Stress

A stressed mind inevitably leads to a stressed body. When you’re experiencing stress, your muscles tense, especially in your neck and back. It also leads to more “stress hormones” flowing through your body (known as cortisol) which can result in muscle soreness and pain. There are several easy ways to decrease stress without avoiding those important family activities and shopping trips! You can start with simple gratitude exercises. Making your first words of the day a statement of gratitude can make a huge difference in your perspective and how you approach the day. Writing these “gratitudes” down and collecting them is also an awesome way to stay mindful of what’s important to you, and can help you let go of the things that are bothering you. Positive thinking and deep, measured breaths throughout the day’s activities could be the best gift you give yourself this holiday season!

3. Watch Your Posture

Be mindful of your posture and body mechanics while wrapping presents, lifting them in and out of the car, and decorating the tree. All of this bending and lifting can take a big toll on your back. Many people throw out their backs lifting because they aren’t using a safe technique to do so, or they don’t know how to properly engage their core muscles. It’s important to lift with your legs, not with your back, and to NEVER hold your breath. Otherwise you could do significant damage over time to the muscles and connective tissue in your spine, thus limiting your mobility, causing pain and discomfort, and increasing the chances you will “throw your back out”.

4. Make Time to Move

The holiday season can be incredibly busy, but it’s important to give yourself time to move. Taking a group walk outside is a good way to spend time with family and friends while still staying active and healthy. There are also plenty of simple in home exercises you can spread throughout your day. Five minutes of stretching or light exercise every couple hours will leave you way more relaxed, limber, and prevent back pain. If you’re looking for an exercise program that will keep you in shape and help you with chronic back problems, check out our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program starting in January 2018!

5. Travel Right

Many of us travel during the holidays, which can be a major stressor and lead to back pain. Whether you are traveling by car or plane, you will be sitting for long periods of time in a cramped space. It’s important to take frequent breaks in order to stretch your muscles and prevent joint stiffness. Even if you’re flying, you can get up and walk the length of the plane to the bathroom and back- enough to stretch out and get your blood flowing. In your seat, be mindful of your posture and be intentional about stretching your neck, arms, and ankles. Be sure to bring a blanket or dress in layers as well- planes are generally chillier than most people find comfortable, and cold air makes your muscles tense up. Staying warm will keep you relaxed and pain free!  You can also use your extra layers to throw behind your back to use as a make-shift lumbar roll or pillow.  Having something that acts like a lumbar support behind you while sitting minimizes the load on your spine.

We hope you take good care of your back this holiday season, but if you run into any trouble, give us a call at 603-380-7902 or send an email to info@cjphysicaltherapy.edarci.com. You can learn more about all of our specialized Pilates programs that are specifically designed for back-pain sufferers here and stay in touch via Facebook for more helpful information just like this. We’re here to help!