By Ann West
This is part 2 of a 3 part series on Spinal Stabilization.
In cases of core muscular impairment the bottom line is that you cannot strengthen a muscle your nervous system cannot activate. You can practice all the core poses you want, but if you haven’t retrained the nervous system’s ability to activate the inner layer muscles you won’t be able to strengthen them.
Let’s take a closer look at the two key muscles that usually get caught up in core muscle impairment – the transversus abdominis and the multifidus.
The transversus abdominis
The transversus abdominus (TrA) is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles. It wraps around the center of the trunk like a corset, with horizontal muscle fibers that attach to the spine via connective tissue. It’s the only abdominal muscle that attaches to the spine.
One of the TrA’s main functions is to hold the abdominal contents in place and when toned it offers a flat looking belly. It’s also a key stabilizer to the spine and has been shown be the first muscle to activate to help protect the spine from the stress of movement.
Usually, the TrA responds at a subconscious level. Once your subconscious mind has made the decision to move, the TrA will activate in preparation. This all happens at a level of intention beneath your conscious awareness. By the time your conscious mind even realizes you want to move, the TrA has already pre-engaged and its spinal stabilizing properties have been activated.
Researchers discovered that the above TrA preparation is impaired in many people with lower back pain. As I explained in this previous post, this happens because the local nerve receptors that tell the TrA to pre-enggae have become disrupted due to pathology or injury at their location in the spine.
The multifidus (MF) is a deep group of small spinal muscles that connect directly to the spine along most of its length. The MF has a deep (DMF) and superficial (SMF) layer.
The SMF assists in spinal movement, whereas the DMF’s main purpose is to help stabilize the spine. The DMF also pre-engages before movement, and like the TrA above, DMF activation becomes impaired when local nerve receptors get disrupted, leading to DMF atrophy at the injury site.
Motor control exercises
Retraining the TrA and the DMF to activate properly is key to restabilizing the spine. Motor control exercises, which use your brain and cognition to control movement, can help achieve this. This type of exercise involves your complete attention. Each movement is made with absolute awareness and consciousness, and performed with purpose and presence. Sound familiar? It should, this is essentially what we’re doing when we practice yoga with consciousness.*
(*Note: this negates blasting music in the background and doing a sequence of yoga poses to work up a sweat, while caught up in comparing yourself to the person on the yoga mat next to you = not yoga, just a workout. Yoga is a focused, intrinsic being state not a distracted, extrinsic doing state!)
Core stability exercises
Core stability motor control exercises – slow, controlled, deeply internal movements that target your innermost core muscles – can be used to improve the nervous system’s ability to activate the transversus abdominus (TrA) and multifidus (MF) correctly. This is done by learning to voluntarily activate these muscles in near perfect isolation. These exercises are really designed to retrain the nervous system more so than the muscular system, and can often feel unusual at first because they are to be practiced gently with minimal exertion. Click here for essential core exercises and how to practice them.
Yoga and core stability
Core stability exercises didn’t originate in yoga and can be practiced as part of any conscious movement exercise regimen. However, yoga lends itself well to their practice due to its age old focus on conscious posture and movement.
The essential core exercises can also be related to the bandhas, the yogic practice of gripping or controlling a part of the body to form a seal or lock. Also, because yoga traditionally offers more depth of intention than most regular exercise regimens, it’s easy to incorporate the essential core exercises into a fuller practice once you’ve learned them.
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© 2016 by Ann West. All rights reserved.