By Shannon Stoby
Core strengthening is a big thing in exercise nowadays—and rightfully so. It is important to have a stable base from which to initiate your movement. But are planks and crunches really the cornerstone to core strength?
There are other pieces to the core which should not be ignored. While the rippin’ six-pack is aesthetically pleasing, it is not all there is to core stability. In fact, when it comes to stability, the key abdominal muscle is the one that you do not even see on the surface. It is called the transversus abdominis and it acts as your inner girdle—a key in preventing or recovering from back pain.
The muscles of your back are also key in your core. You can’t rely totally on your abs to keep you stable. To have a good balance of musculature from the front and back is posturally important also, as if you are too tight in some areas, you become pulled out of alignment. Being very tight through the chest or abs or hip flexors pulls you forward into that hunched position which is not optimal for your spine. Conversely, if you habitually sit in that hunched position, it can cause those muscles in the front to become shortened. It is important to work on releasing the front as well as strengthening the back to correct such malalignments.
But, the most often neglected component to core stability is the pelvic floor. It’s role usually only becomes evident when it is not pulling it’s weight—an example of this being in pregnancy. There are many factors that contribute to back pain in pregnancy. Weight gain, a change in your centre of mass, the ligamentous laxity that comes with hormonal changes. However, the condition of your pelvic floor is important in helping to stabilize. If you had menstrual or other gynaecological issues prior to pregnancy, it is likely that your pelvic floor was not functioning properly to begin with and now, since your overstretched abdominals are not contributing as much to your stability, your back is left to literally do all the heavy lifting. And, like everything that is over-worked and under-paid, it is going to complain.
Now, this may make everyone rush to do kegels. Don’t. Not all pelvic floor issues stem from weakness. Just as I mentioned that tightness and weakness both need to be addressed elsewhere in the body, so is true for the pelvic floor. In fact, tightness needs to be addressed before weakness in the pelvic floor. When you think of a muscle that is already shortened, it is not in an optimal position to have contractile strength. And when you think of fascia that is restricted, it is not in it’s optimal state of fluidity and is causing pressure on the structures beneath. You may assume that if you are having issues with bladder leakage, for example, that you must need to strengthen, but this may not be the case.
Really, this is not just an issue for pregnant or postpartum women. Anyone with issues relating to incontinence, fertility, pelvic pain or injury, menstrual pain or menopause in women, or erectile dysfunction in men, should have their pelvic floor assessed by a qualified pelvic floor physiotherapist.
While it undeniably a personal matter, it is important to have a proper assessment to know whether you need to release or strengthen, or some combination of the two, to restore your pelvic floor health. Whether you have had a baby or not, if you are having any such issues, you owe it to yourself to get it addressed.
Join Shannon and Mehran this Thursday, July 14th 6:30-7:30pm for their complimentary seminar
The Pelvic Floor: Stability. Fitness. Performance. Register Here
By: Shannon Stoby, PT, MScPT
Shannon is a Physical Therapist with an interest in helping her patients achieve holistic healing from whatever ails them and achieve optimum functioning in pursuing their passions.
Shannon graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Physical Education with distinction, and followed with a Master of Science in Physical Therapy. She is licensed with the College of Physical Therapists of Ontario and is a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association.
Shannon has trained extensively in John F. Barnes Myofascial Release (MFR), and this is the focus of her practice. She has worked with patients with mental illness, has trained in women’s health treatment, and is a sports enthusiast; MFR allows her a means to assist with all of these issues in a meaningful way. She has also worked across the lifespan, with experience addressing the health concerns of older adults. Through her experience in work and in life, she has come to understand that there is more to healing than just the body. While physical health is paramount, the roles of the mind and the soul in health and healing are of equal importance.
Shannon is excited for the opportunity to work with the talented team at IHI, and looks forward to working with you, in wherever the journey may lead.