Brighton Spine and Sports Clinic | The Unstable spine
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The Unstable spine

The Unstable spine

What the core?

You’ve probably heard the word core used when doing exercises.
Well what does it mean?

Well think of an apple core and pulling it out. This is like the core of your spine in the middle, just with joints in between.

Your spinal column (or apple core) has many joints including discs, ligaments facet joints and spinal nerves. These joints slide and tilt with your many body movements. But without muscle support and control it is inherently unstable. Imagine your knee joint without any muscles to support it? A bit tricky on stairs… Ouch.

So let’s keep it simple.

Your spine needs:

1 Stabilising muscles for stability of each of your moving joints
2.Movement with stability and strength
3.Something to control all these movements – your central nervous system.

Think of wrapping a tight elastic girdle around your waist line like a corset that held everything in whilst you bent and moved giving you total support.
This is like your core.
Except it should be your muscles.

Simply the major muscles include :
Pelvic floor muscles (at the bottom- the floor)

Your Diaphram– breathing muscle (at the top- the roof)
Multifidus ,Quadratus Lumborum-QL (at the back)
Transversus abdominus –TA (at the front)

Briefly the Multifidus, & transversopspinalis are deep short muscles in the back which run from one vertebrae to the next controlling the sliding and tilting motions to prevent disc and ligament injuries. These muscles as well as the discs and ligaments have small nerve endings in them which send information to your brain about their position. This allows the short muscles to control them at all times.

Your pelvic floor muscles at the base is like a hammock holding and bracing it all up.
Your diaphram at the top is the roof, keeping everything in.

Transversus abdominus is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles – at the front
It is built like a corset around the trunk and is the only abdominal muscle which attaches to our spinal joints . It is normally the first muscle our nervous system activates during any type of movement.

All these muscles are simply known as your ‘core’.

Acting together they increase the intra abdominal pressure providing stability and strength to your spinal joints whilst allowing mobility – your natural corset.

There is also an outer layer of thick long muscles found just beneath the skin.
These provide power necessary to straighten up from a bent position, swing a golf club or lift heavy objects.

These are collectively known as the erector spinae muscles, whilst in the front are your abdominals- Internal & External Obliques and Rectus Abdominus.– Your 6 pack-.
These are not built for single joint stabilisation.

These big muscles may often over contract or spasm during an injury to the deeper spinal joint as a means of trying to splint or immobilize the injury site. This makes them feel like they constantly need to be stretched.

Sound familiar?

The KEY is to improve the nervous systems ability to activate these muscles to all work together.

Normally this all happens automatically without you having to think about it. A bit like, you don’t have to think about making your heart beat. It happens automatically.

The problem is after injury, or with wear and tear (that lovely word degeneration) and with the onset of pain , the messages from the joints and small muscles to the brain about position and control can switch off, leaving the spine vulnerable to more injury, damage and pain. – a too common cycle.
That’s why the retraining of these muscles is more involved than just strengthening and involves a lot of concentration, breathing and repetition initially to engage the correct muscles in the right order first.

Sound complicated ?

Not really with the guided help of an experienced clinician.
But it does mean activating the correct muscles first before you undertake any strength program so as not to cause any further damage.
Pilates is one great way to start.

How’s your core going?

If you have any back problems or are just not sure if you are doing it right please feel free to give us a call.