Low back pain (LBP) is extremely common and will affect at least 80% of us at least once during our lifetime, with many experiencing recurring or prolonged chronic episodes. While chiropractors often utilize manual therapies—like spinal manipulation—to manage low back pain, he or she may also recommend spinal stabilization exercises as part of the treatment process.
Studies have shown that patients with low back pain often have weakness in their core muscles. In particular, certain important deep involuntary muscles like the fine rotators of the spine called the lumbar multifidus can become deactivated and out of sync or coordination with other core muscles like the transverse abdominus and gluteus maximus during normal movement patterns. This loss of lumbar spine support increases stress and load on the spine, which can lead to injury and/or poor treatment responses.
Core stabilization exercises are intended to help reactivate normal muscle function, which increases spinal stability, promotes neuromotor control in the lumbopelvic region, and induces inter-segmental stiffness to prevent shear forces that lead to injury and/or poor recovery and chronic low back pain.
Examples of core stabilization exercises include the plank, the side plank, the bird dog, and the bridge, as well as movements that incorporate a stability ball. Based on your particular case, your doctor of chiropractic can provide recommendations on which exercises to focus on.
So, just how good are core stabilization exercises in the management of chronic low back pain? A 2021 systematic review found that core stabilization exercises benefit patients with both short-term and long-term low back pain more than other exercise approaches like general strength and stretch training, treadmill walking, and use of various training devices. Additionally, core stabilization exercises work even better to reduce pain and disability and improve the strength and function of the core muscles when combined with other treatment approaches like spinal manipulation, mobilization, and myofascial release technique—forms of treatment that are performed by doctors of chiropractic.