A strong core can stabilize your spine to help keep your lower back healthy and pain-free. The muscles and ligaments surrounding your spine can weaken with age or from an injury, which can make movements like twisting, stretching, lifting, and bending difficult.
“The lower back often has to compensate for this lack of mobility, which places greater stress and burden on its muscles,” says Eric L’Italien, a physical therapist with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Center.
People with back pain often fear movement, which can make their back stiff and their pain even worse. “Yet, a stable spine is also more flexible, so it can support a full range of natural movements,” explains L’Italien. “And healthier movements reduce pressure on the low back and lower the risk of pain and injury.”
Spine stability is achieved with a balanced approach to your entire core musculature. “This means you engage all the core muscles at once — from the abdominals to the whole back,” says L’Italien.
This comes in handy when you make movements that require sudden strength and a broad range of motion, like lifting and carrying groceries and placing them on the counter or floor.
“Spine stability means your entire trunk is working together in rhythm, like a world-class symphony,” says L’Italien. “If one thing is off, it can affect the entire structure.”
So how do you get a stable spine?
L’Italien recommends the “big three” exercises developed by Dr. Stuart McGill, an expert in spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. They are the curl-up, the side plank, and the bird-dog.
“These exercises engage all the important muscles needed to improve spine stability,” says L’Italien.