What is your “core”?

by paspapt

Written by Dan Nagorski PT, DPT

If you’ve ever had low back pain, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “tighten up your core.” But have you ever stopped to think, “What muscle’s really make up my core?” A common misconception, that many people think, is that you need to strengthen up your rectus abdominus, also known as, the “six pack abs,” in order to work on your core. In reality, this muscle is not part of the “core” group of muscles used to stabilize your spine; and by purely strengthening your “six-pack,” you can potentially make your symptoms worse.


The core is actually made up of several muscles, but the 2 main stabilizers are called the multifidus and the transverse abdominus. (See diagram) The way that these 2 muscles work is that they help control trunk rotation, and they provide adequate space between the lumbar vertebrae.


A common reason for low back pain is the fact that these muscles do not contract, or “turn on,” in time to dynamically stabilize your spine.  This can lead to excessive compressive and shearing forces through your spine, which over time will lead to a very painful low back. There are many different ways to exercise these specific muscles, but if you’re not performing them properly, and with good technique, it may have the opposite effect that you’re looking for.


Physical Therapists are skilled clinicians who are capable of educating and prescribing exercises to our patients, which properly engage these muscles. If you have low back pain, contact your doctor and see if physical therapy is the solution to alleviating your back pain.