Core strength has taken on several meanings across the active and medical community throughout recent years. In this instance, it will be defined as the deep muscles of the abdomen, lumbar spine and hips which provide stability to the trunk, and therefore limbs, controlling joints with both fine and larger movement patterns. Particular muscles of interest in the spine and abdomen include:
– The Transversus Abdominis: this muscle attaches from the thoracolumbar fascia (a broad tendon that attaches to the spine) and wraps along the upper pelvis (the large bone which makes up a portion of the hip girdle where the thigh bone attaches to the pelvis at the hip socket) to the midline of the abdomen. When activated, it simulates a contraction frequently performed when one is experiencing incontinence issues (common after pregnancy, for example).
– The Multifidus: a small muscle in the back of the spine, which travels between 2-4 spinal segments, and provides a gentle compression to the spine along with the transverse abdominis, to help increase spinal stability.
Along with these muscles, more commonly-known muscles aiding in core stability during large movement patterns include: the latissimus dorsi, obliques, erector spinae, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and rectus abdominus.
When the deeper core musculature works appropriately with the more superficial muscles, they provide a stable base upon which the limbs can move – including the hip. The transversus abdominus creates a “corset-like” structure as it is contracted, increasing intra-abdominal pressure when performing a gentle Kegel contraction, and simultaneously works with the multifidus. As these muscles aide in posturing and reducing uneven loading through the legs, the gluteus medius (a muscle below the commonly known gluteus maximus, which originates from the top of the pelvis and attaches to the outer portion of the proximal femur) and the gluteus maximus help to maintain a level pelvis during single-limb stance (during walking, going up/down stairs, etc). When these muscles are not functioning appropriately, the hips (and other joints of the lower extremity) are stressed in various ways that, when performed repetitively, can place undue stresses and lead to injury and/or debilitation.
Research has shown that a moderate improvement in hip range of motion and symptoms can be produced just from properly training your core. Further improvement can be gained with your physical therapist to provide any necessary mobilization of the hip joint and train you to engage the core appropriately with the surrounding hip musculature during daily activities. Keeping a strong core can help prevent future injury and keep your joints healthy, allowing you to function efficiently and effectively. If you have questions regarding this, or are experiencing pain in your back, hips, or legs, contact your physical therapist today to get on the right track towards recovery!