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Core strength and core stability are complex concepts,
and different professionals, such as biomechanists, chiropractors and
physiotherapists, may all define them slightly differently. I hope you find this page of information clear and helpful!
Every time we move our arms and legs, force is being applied to our spine. It has been said that if we were to remove all the muscles from around the spine, so it was simply made up of the ligaments and bones (vertebrae), it would only be able to withstand about 2 Newtons of force being applied (2kg in layman terms)!
However, everyday activities such as walking and picking up toys from the floor apply much more force than that. The reason our spine does not fall apart during everyday life is because of core stability, which is provided by the muscles around the spine.
Core stability prevents the spine from buckling under the immense pressure that our arms and legs put on it, and helps us to keep our balance during movement. It plays an important role in nearly every gross motor activity.
Our core is constantly adapting to our posture, adapting to the forces and pressure we put on our spine, and provides us with a stable base for movement of our arms and legs.
Core stability refers to the stability of the spine, which enables it to stay intact during the forces exerted on it by everyday movement. Core stability does not refer to the stability of the muscles themselves.
The core muscles are the muscles around the spine which help to stabilise and protect the spine and help provide a solid base from which movement can take place.
Core strength is the ability of the muscles around the spine to contract together and thus stabilise and protect the spine.
Having strong core muscles can help protect your spine from damage and pain, and also enable you to use your arms and legs more powerfully and effectively.
Imagine trying to paint a wall while dangling from a rope or working on a wobbly stepladder. The paint will go everywhere and it will be really hard to get the paint to land on the right spot.
Just as you need your stepladder to be your stable base in order to paint effectively, your body needs core strength to provide core stability in order to carry out your daily tasks with minimum effort and no strain on your body.
The core muscles can be divided into two groups:
There is not one specific muscle group that is primarily responsible for core stability – all the muscles of the core work together. That is why we aim to strengthen the entire core, using a range of different core exercises.
These are some signs that your child may be struggling with weak core muscles:
An assessment by a pediatric physical therapist or occupational therapist can help to identify and treat the underlying cause of the poor core stability, which may be low muscle tone, developmental delay, sensory processing disorder or a genetic disorder among other things.
This page is not intended to diagnose or treat any disorder!
Most children nowadays need some encouragement to get away from their screens and get active. Going to the park, playing outdoors, and engaging in gross motor games and sports are great ways to improve your child's endurance, strength and core stability.
To help your child develop core stability, it is best to choose activities that will require a low level of exertion for a slightly longer period of time, rather than doing lots of high resistance exercises at a faster pace.
Activities which emphasize control and endurance are better for core stability than those that emphasize force/strength and speed.
Kids sometimes struggle to know how to "activate" their core for stability during a gross motor activity. I usually say something like this: "You know how you make your tummy hard when you think you are going to get punched in the tummy - those are the muscles that need to be working while you climb the tree/keep your balance/play this game".
I have also put together a few helpful tips and free photographed core strength activities on my website that you can easily do at home.
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Faries, M.D. and Greenwood, M. (2007). Core training: Stabilizing the confusion. Strength and conditioning journal. 29. 10-25. https://doi.org/10.1519/00126548-200704000-00001
K Au, M.; M Chan, W.; Lee, L.; MK Chen, T.; MW Chau, R.; and Pang, M. Core Stability Exercise Is As Effective As Task-Oriented Motor Training In Improving Motor Proficiency In Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Clinical Rehabilitation. 28(10) March 2014. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269215514527596 (abstract only)
Mcgill, S. (1999). Stability: From biomechanical concept to chiropractic practice. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 43.
Oliver, G.; Stone, A. and Plummer, H. (2010). Electromyographic Examination of Selected Muscle Activation During Isometric Core Exercises. Clin J Sport Med. 2010 Nov; 20(6):452-7. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181f7b0ef. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21079441
Vera-Garcia, F.; Elvira, J.; Brown, S. and Mcgill, S. (2007). Effects of abdominal stabilization maneuvers on the control of spine motion and stability against sudden trunk perturbations. Journal of electromyography and kinesiology : official journal of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology. 17. 556-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2006.07.004
Willson, J.; Dougherty, C.; Ireland, M. and Davis, I (2005). Core Stability and Its Relationship to Lower Extremity Function and Injury. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 13. 316-25. https://doi.org/10.5435/00124635-200509000-00005
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