3 reasons to improve your core strength

Many are getting back to the gym, golf course or tennis court following a ‘COVID hiatus’.

As you amp up your active pursuits, Michigan Medicine sports medicine specialists offer a gentle reminder: Put some of that pent-up energy into exercises that build your core muscle strength and improve stability.  

“Research supports a link between strengthening the core – the muscles of the abdomen, hips and back – and reducing the occurrence and severity of injuries,” said physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Andrea Aagesen, D.O. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that the same may be true for strengthening the neck to protect against head injuries.”

“Intuitively, it makes sense that a strong neck can help protect your head when playing a contact sport,” said PM&R physician researcher James Eckner, M.D., M.S. Eckner is director of clinical research for Michigan NeuroSport. “But research to date hasn’t taught us enough about the relationship between neck strength and concussion to make evidence-based recommendations.”

Eckner, who is also associate director of research for the U-M Concussion Center, has launched a research study specifically focused on neck strength and conditioning.

In the meantime, though, he says, don’t wait to start a sports conditioning routine.

“Nearly everyone, regardless of age, fitness level or activity of choice, can benefit from strength and conditioning training,” said Aagesen. “Many of the injuries that bring patients to our clinic can be linked to insufficient conditioning.”

Need more reasons to pay attention to your core strength? Aagesen and Eckner give three:

1. A stronger core is an insurance policy against all kinds of injuries

“Core strength is especially helpful in preventing injuries of the lower extremities – hips, legs and ankles – that can result from running, jumping or lateral/cutting movements in sports like soccer,” Aagesen says. “But people are surprised to learn that weak core muscles also pose a risk to the upper body, increasing the chance of shoulder or elbow injuries from throwing, rowing, volleyball or racquet sports.”

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2. When we rely too much on lower leg and arm muscles to compensate for inadequate core strength, overuse injuries can result

“Both research and our clinical experience has shown that sprains, tendon tears, and stress fractures – sometimes very serious ones – can result when core muscles are not strong and responsive enough to react quickly to the forces from the ground when we run, jump, and cut,” Aagesen explained. “For example, insufficient or imbalanced strength in the hip and hamstring muscles contribute to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, which may require surgery.”

3. The increased stability gained through core exercises has also been shown to improve balance, which is especially important as we age

“Often, we see patients whose exercise routines consist of walking only,” says Aagesen. “Walking is terrific for cardiovascular health, but patients can develop strength deficits in the hip, abdominal, oblique and back muscles if they are only moving their bodies forward and backwards. Training these muscles can really help improve side-to-side movement and may prevent falls down the road.”

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