Forget The Old Acquaintance: Auld Lang Syne to Core Strengthening as the Answer to Chronic Back Pain

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Awareness of good posture is important for standing, both physical and social, as discussed by Jane E. Brody in a column for The New York Times Well blog.

While the topic is important in addressing the world’s most disabling disease, the author’s endorsement of core strengthening exercises recommended by British physiotherapist Nick Sinfield, serve as an example of precisely the outdated back pain thinking and vernacular today relied upon by many in health care.

Sports medicine and pain expert Dr. Sean Wheeler aims to build awareness to jettison these obsolete practices. One review of his new book, UPRISE, offers a glimpse of the future in treating chronic back pain:

…Dr. Sean Wheeler changes the way we look at back pain… As a result, the diagnosis has changed, the prognosis has changed, the vocabulary we use with our patients has changed. [For example,] there is no more “core,” instead speaking of Bracing Muscles in need of Circulation Training.

One need look no further than examples provided by high-performance athletes to understand the importance of moving past the idea of strengthening one’s “core” to embracing the importance of Bracing Muscles® in everyday life.

What is often referred to as your core is generally your torso. The major muscles in your torso are often described as core muscles. Respected medical authority, such as the Mayo Clinic, speak to the need to strengthen your core muscles. And yet by doing so, this over 40 years of traditional understanding confuses the treatment and relief of chronic back pain.

The muscles of your core, as well as throughout your body, consist of two different types: Bracing Muscles and Action Muscles. To think of exercises for your core as one-size-fits-all ignores this difference, too often keeping you locked into back pain that becomes chronic and incurable.

At peak capability and as the label implies, bracing muscles brace, providing stability by remaining static – by not moving – and providing spontaneous all day endurance. Think of the muscles of your body that do not grow in size no matter how much you exercise, such as those in your ankles, feet and neck. Bracing muscles are also positioned in your low back, shoulders and hips.

In contrast, and again as the name implies, action muscles are dynamic, they move, yet they move intermittently only when we act to move, such as to flex or walk or climb. Action muscles grow in mass as you exercise, which is why many engage in activity such as lifting weights and strength training.

Yet strength training accomplishes nothing in maintaining bracing muscle function. It’s why emphasis on core strengthening is misplaced.

One investment you can make in maintaining your bracing muscle function is by maintaining good posture. We agree with the author when she writes: “Improving posture requires a conscious effort…”

2016 New Year’s resolutions surround us. For your good health resolve to embrace the revolution of one, the revolution of you. Leave behind the old thinking of core. Instead, reclaim your birthright: the gift of life without chronic back pain.

And this year, listen to Auld Lang Syne with meaning.