You may have heard that strengthening your core is important, or perhaps you thought you should do it, so you have a more toned mid-section. Either way, you were right you should strengthen your core – but here are the reasons why it is important. Studies show that it is critical for maintaining balance (1-4), support us in an upright posture (5, 6, 7), help us go from sit to stand, balance on uneven or slippery surfaces, walk or run, kick/throw (8), the list goes on.
Note: The term “core” in this article is described as the trunk of the body, glutes, pelvic and shoulder girdles (5).
People who work in a sedentary environment (office workers) may end up sitting for most of the day, and when they go home, they may continue to engage in sedentary activates (watching tv). A sedentary lifestyle is a known risk factor for cardiometabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease, and musculoskeletal disorders (9).
In my work with ergonomics, it is reasonable to say that when the spine is in a supported working posture, it can reduce the frequency of injury. It is expected that you change your posture throughout the day, as staying in one position for a prolonged period can increase your chances of injury. The image below was taken from the Workplace Ergonomic Standards and shows the various working positions to alternate throughout the day.
Fig. 1 CSA Office ergonomics — An application standard for workplace ergonomics Z412-17 pg. 32.
I believe it is reasonable to suggest, that someone who does not participate in any form of exercise may have reduced core strength. If we have reduced core strength, when we recruit the core muscles to support us, they can quickly become fatigued. When sitting at a desk, core muscles can fatigue quickly, and you eventually slump forward causing the low back to flatten. In theory, this gives your core muscles a break (because they can no longer contract to support you), but you are now relying on your spine to support you in that upright posture, which has its own risks. This can lead to low back, upper back, shoulder, neck pain and/or symptoms in your spinal disks. Note: People with strong core strength also sit in a slumped position, which leads to the same symptoms mentioned above. The idea is that someone with a stronger core, thus better posture, could sit more readily in an upright posture and find it more comfortable. It can be very helpful to have an office ergonomic assessment done to have your office setup optimally for you.
Evidence suggests that isolated exercises (prone plank or side plank) have shown improvements in untrained individuals or those rehabilitating from an injury, however, it is not very effective at improving sport performance (8). Note: evidence shows ground based free weight exercises (squat, deadlift, push press, snatch) give a greater benefit to improving sport performance*.
I haven’t been able to find any studies that look at a correlation between core strength and pain in office workers. If I am ever in the position to conduct a study – I will look at the effect of core strengthening exercises on non-specific (and potentially specific) back, neck and shoulder pain in office workers.
There are so many fun exercises we can do to strengthen our core! If you have specific pain or symptoms, please speak to your treating health care provider, or feel free to reach out to me to put together a program for you. Hopefully with some core strengthening exercises and an ergonomic assessment (with the recommended equipment and setup), you might find a reduction in pain symptoms.
*Please reach out to me if you have any questions about references or want to chat more.
Alana Magee, Kinesiologist
- Cabanas-Valdés, R.; Bagur-Calafat, C.; Girabent-Farrés, M.; Caballero-Gómez, F.M.; Hernández-Valiño, M.; Cuchí, G.U. The effect of additional core stability exercises on improving dynamic sitting balance and trunk control for subacute stroke patients: A randomized controlled trial. Clin. Rehabil. 2016, 30, 1024–1033. [CrossRef]
- Szafraniec, R.; Bara ´nska, J.; Kuczy ´nski, M. Acute effects of core stability exercises on balance control. Acta Bioeng Biomech 2018, 20, 145–151. [PubMed]
- Haruyama, K.; Kawakami, M.; Otsuka, T. Effect of Core Stability Training on Trunk Function, Standing Balance, and Mobility in Stroke Patients. Neurorehabilit. Neural Repair 2016, 31, 240–249. [CrossRef]
- Dhawale, T.; Yeole, U.; Pawar, A. Effect of trunk control exercises on balance and gait in stroke patients-randomized control trial. Age 2018, 40, 60.
- The Effect of Core Training on Posture Sibel Karacaoølu Pamukkale Doç. Dr. Fatma Çelik Kayapinar. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy Vol 4 No 1 S2 April 2015
- Marshall PW, Murphy BA. Core stability exercises on and off a Swiss ball. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2005;86:242-249.
- The relationship between lower extremity injury, low back pain, and hip muscle strength in male and female collegiate athletes. Nadler SF, Malanga GA, DePrince M, Stitik TP, Feinberg JH Clin J Sport Med. 2000 Apr; 10(2):89-97.
- Essentials of Strength and Conditioning/ National Strength and Conditioning Asssociation. Haff G and Triplett T. Fouth Edition. pg. 411
- Adverse Effects of Prolonged Sitting Behavior on the General Health of Office Workers. Daneshmandi H, Choobineh A, Ghaem H, Karimi M. J Lifestyle Med. 2017 Jul; 7(2):69-75.