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Hard Core Muscles for Mummies (Part 1)

Recently our physiotherapist Cheryl Ng was interviewed by Young Parents Magazine and published in the July version on why having a "hard" core can save your neck and back from daily activities.

Do you have neck and back aches during pregnancy or after delivery? Do you really think it is part and parcel of parenthood? Think again.

What are the core muscles and why are they important?

Core muscles stabilize your body and the pelvis during dynamic movements, such as walking and running. The core muscles include the transverses abdominis (TA), multifidus, pelvic floor muscles and the obliques. These muscles are attached to the inner portion of your thorax, (the trunk region below your ribs to your pelvis), allowing them better control of your spine and pelvis while you move. Imagine a tree trunk that has been cut into half. The rings of the tree represent the layers of your core strength. The transverses abdominis (TA) is the innermost ring, acting as a thick corset around your spine. It gives stability to the trunk and support your spine to help maintain a correct upright position.

All movements of the trunk activates the core muscles, so even when you are lifting your hand, the core muscles in your back and abdominals are recruited to assist the movement. Hence, it is crucial that your core muscles are activated before movement occurs, in offer to offer support and strength to your spine, as failure to do so will result in excessive or faulty loading to your spine, leading to low back strains and pelvic dysfunctions. Fortunately, our core muscles are normally already activated when we are in good posture, the problem comes when we deviate from good posture or sustain back injuries, thus deactivating the normal auto-recruitment of the core muscles.

How are they related to persistent back and neck pains?

Weak or inefficient core muscles are one of the contributing factors to persistent back and neck pains. We are constantly loading our spine with our activities of daily living, such as, working at the desk or computers prolonged, and carrying laptop bags or groceries. These activities stress the spine and the muscles that worked to support it may strain and get injured. This results in faulty postures which either avoid or aggravates the pain, hence, changing the normal activation of the core muscles, thereby reducing the protective function of these muscles. This may eventually set in motion a vicious cycle, in which faulty posture lead to incorrect muscle activation and less protection of spine, which lead to pain, and eventual muscular weakness , which lead to more faulty postures and pain and eventual degeneration of the spine, with persistent and recurring back and neck pains.

What are the negative effects weak core muscles can have on pregnant women and parents (who spend a lot of time bending over to take care of the baby, carrying children etc.)?

During pregnancy, your core requires greater stabilization due to changes in your weight, posture and centre of gravity. As your pregnancy progresses, the muscles that make up your core, plus the muscles that support you and your growing baby become stressed and extremely challenged. In addition, relaxin, a hormone emitted during pregnancy, ‘loosens’ your joints and ligaments in preparation for birth; as a result your supporting muscles have to work harder to achieve adequate stability. This in turn may lead to overstraining of your core and supportive muscles. A weak core will then result in higher probability of back and pelvic strains, which can be debilitating. Hence, strong core muscles play an important role in supporting your spine during pregnancy and also in assisting recovery from child birth.

The same goes to parents who spend a large portion of their time nursing and doing other back-breaking tasks, such as carrying children, lifting heavy cradles or large bags. Since such tasks are repetitive, the stress in the back accumulates over time and may eventually lead to fatigue of the supporting back muscles, resulting in back sprains. Again, having strong core muscles will help in better supporting the spine and back, thus reducing the likelihood of injury.

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