Our spines are the foundation of what allows us to move, function, and live life with ease, so it’s hard to imagine anything more disruptive than having chronic back pain.
Seriously, it’s like EVERYTHING hurts and I’m dying.
Unfortunately though, back pain — and in particular lower back pain — is the most common complaint among Americans. And it’s a common belief that back pain is an inevitable part of aging — but it’s actually not.
Back pain IS usually manageable and preventable with the right therapeutic interventions. Yep, lots of us are suffering unnecessarily.
Core work is often recommended to help alleviate lower back pain. But sometimes doing traditional core exercises often can actually make your back ache more. Not exactly what we’re going for, amiright?
There is truth in that advice though: the solution lies within your core – both in its strength AND its stability. You need both.
But the problem is that many exercises that people think of as core work (like crunches, bicycles, and Russian twists) aren’t actually helping their back pain because they are:
- only doing core strengthening movements; and
- not doing any true core stability work.
And that’s important because, when it comes to lower back pain, often the lack of core stability is what’s actually causing your spine to send off pain signals.
So what the heck’s the difference and what should you be doing? Worry not, friend, we’ve got you.
Let’s take a look at core stability vs. core strength, talk about how they’re not the same thing, and why the distinction matters when it comes to dealing with lower back pain.
What is Core Strength?
Core strength helps you use the muscles in your trunk like your stomach and back to move your spine. Developing your core strength by building stronger abdominal muscles means you can lift heavier weights and/or do more exercise repetitions with your spine. And most importantly, having strong abdominal muscles also makes it easier to perform daily tasks without straining yourself, like bending down to lift a heavy object or to tie your shoes.
What is Core Stability?
Where core strength is about training your bigger core muscles to MOVE your spine, core stability focuses on training the smaller stabilizing muscles found in your core, back, and hips to your spine in place and RESIST movement or losing a neutral position. This type of training helps improve your posture, coordination, balance, and movement, while also helping you become more aware of how your body moves—a key component of good overall health. By creating more core stability, you can reduce stress on your spine and alleviate some of the discomfort caused by chronic back pain conditions like herniated discs, osteoarthisis, or sciatica.
The Dynamic Duo — Core Strength + Stability
It’s important that your spine is able to move in all directions–round forward, curl backward, lean to both the left and the right, and rotate in both directions. And it’s equally important that your spine is supported by muscles that are strong enough to stabilize it so it can resist movement when necessary.
So, yes, both types of training – strength and stability – are beneficial for reducing back pain as they help build the capacity of all the muscles surrounding your spine to both move and resist movement. When all of these muscles are strong and functioning well, it takes pressure off of the bones and discs in your back.
Again, many people focus a little too much on the more familiar and traditional core exercises without working on their core’s ability to resist movement — a key component of core stability.
TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read)
If your lower back hurts, do some core stability work. And if your back hurts while doing core work, it could be because you lack the core stability to support your spine and the bones are moving more than they should. Ouchie.
So please, no more unnecessarily suffering through back pain.
Train your core for more stability with exercises like:
- Seated Good Mornings – trains resisting rounding forward
- Dead Bugs – trains resisting arching your lower back
- Side Planks – trains resisting side bending
- Pallof Presses – trains resisting rotation
Check out this video for our favorite 4 basic core stability movements.
And if you want to dive a little deeper into how your core + pelvic floor can help you breathe better, minimize chronic neck pain, stop embarrassing bladder leaks, or help you lift more weight and run further without paying for it later with nagging back pain, grab this exclusive Core + Pelvic Floor Basics webinar recording.