Abdominal Core Location and Function

The abdominal core is located around the front and sides of the abdomen between the lower ribs and top of the pelvis. The transverse abdominis muscle is the deepest abdominal muscle, and functions like a girdle or the body’s natural weight lifting belt. When it contracts, the waist narrows slightly and the lower abdomen flattens. The function is to stabilize the body as we move. Physiotherapists advise that this function is critical in order to reduce the wear and tear on the joints that would occur daily if they were not stabilized.

Abdominal Core Dysfunction

Physiotherapists maintain that changes in responsiveness of the abdominal core can occur. For example, a person with lower back pain can experience problems with abdominal core contraction, muscle atrophy and a change in the structure of the muscle fibers which makes them less effective at their job of stabilization. If not corrected, this dysfunction will remain even after a person has recovered. Without proper Physiotherapy and care, dysfunctional stabilization muscles may contribute to re-injury and new injuries.

Physiotherapy Focus to Retraining the Abdominal Core

Retraining our core muscles takes focus and practice. In order to retrain and condition the abdominal core, follow these steps outlined by our Nose Creek Physiotherapists.

  1. Learn to contract the abdominal muscles without contracting other muscles
  2. Perform abdominal exercises to increase the endurance of this muscle
  3. Incorporate abdominal contraction into daily life activities

Step 1: Learning to Contract Abdominal Muscles

Lying on your back or in a 4-point kneeling position, let your abdomen relax and breathe normally through your belly. If you are on your back, gently press your fingertips into your lower abdomen just inside the top bone of the pelvis. As you exhale, gently draw your lower abdomen below the navel inwards toward your spine. Our Physiotherapists suggest to imagine that you are stopping the flow of urine. You should feel a light tension develop under your fingertips, not a forceful contraction that pushes the fingers out. Hold the contraction and continue to breathe.
Usually when we first try this exercise, other muscles try to compensate. If these other muscles are allowed to contract concurrently we will get no benefit from the exercise. Our Physiotherapist team stresses that it is critical that you take the time to focus on your technique and achieve a correct abdominal core contraction.

The following movements are signs that other muscles are compensating. If you notice that you are doing these, try to correct them and ask your Physiotherapist to review this exercise with you.

1. Breath holding
2. Raising of the chest
3. Bulging of the abdomen
4. Movement of the spine or pelvis
5. Fingertips being pressed out by a strong muscular contraction

Step 2: Performing Abdominal Exercises

When performing abdominal exercises our physiotherapists set out very specific guidelines.
These include:

1. Slowly generate force in the muscle
2. Continue to breathe, and strive to breathe through the abdomen rather than through the chest
3. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds
4. Focus on maintaining the contraction and avoid rotation of the pelvis
5. Use a low load (using small, slow movements of the arms or legs instead of large fast movements or weights)

This type of exercise may feel quite different from other strengthening exercises you have done. Little or no movement may occur, and lower levels of physical effort are required. As unusual as these exercises may seem, it is important to perform the exercises a minimum of three times each day. This Physiotherapy program is designed to determine when we start to use compensation strategies, and correct this with proper abdominal core strengthening.

Exercise Program

Once the basic abdominal contraction has been mastered, your Nose Creek Physiotherapist will advise that the exercise may be progressed as follows. Each progression begins with an abdominal core contraction, which is held throughout the movement.

1. Slowly let your right knee move to the right, keeping your low back and pelvis level. Return to the centre and repeat with the left.

2. Slide the right foot along the floor, straightening the knee. Slide the foot back towards the hip, and repeat with the left foot. Be sure that the floor supports the weight of the leg and that the foot does not lift off of the floor.

3. Lift the right foot off the floor keeping the knee bent. Don’t hold your breath and don’t bulge your lower abdomen. Return the foot to the floor and repeat with the left foot.

4. Lift the right foot off the floor and straighten the leg only as far as you can control your core with a proper strategy. Slowly bend the knee and return the foot to the floor. Repeat with the left foot.

Step 3: Incorporate into Other Activities

The final step of Physiotherapy involves using the abdominal muscle contraction when we do regular life activities. Your Nose Creek Physiotherapist will advise that each time we get out of our chair, lift, bend or reach we should first contract the abdominal muscles. The goal is to teach the body to resume its normal stabilization strategy of contracting the abdominal core prior to movement.