Why the muscles in the middle of your child’s body is so important
“Use your core!” “Sit up straight!” If you spend any time with kids and teenagers, you hear these phrases all the time. It seems like posture and core strengthening are such hot topics these days. But what is the core anyways, and why is it so important?
What is the core?
“Core” is the word we use to describe the muscles in the middle part of your body. It includes muscles in your stomach, back, hips, and around your shoulder blades. They are not your “six-pack” that you might be able to see from the outside. They are deeper in your body. Even though you can’t see them from the outside the same way you might see big biceps, they are just as important, if not more so.
What does the core do?
All of these muscle groups work together to help keep your body stable. They create a good base for your arms and legs to work on. They help you have good posture, which distributes forces evenly throughout your body. They also work to transfer forces to and from your legs and your arms, like when you kick or throw a ball.
Why is it important?
Having a weak core is a lot like having a chain where the middle link is broken. Your body just can’t work very well without it? Or something like that. When your core doesn’t do its job, other muscles, bones, or ligaments have to do the work. The problem is that they were not designed for that job, so they aren’t very good at it. Without your core muscles working to keep your spine stable, you may be more likely to have injuries like back pain. Having a weak core has also been linked to other injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, shoulder injuries and ankle injuries to name just a few.
What if my child doesn’t play any sports? Is the core still important?
It is still very important to have strong core muscles. We use these muscles even when we are resting. They work hard to keep us strong while sitting in school, riding in the car, and playing outside with friends. The core muscles are so important that they should activate before any movement of your arms or your legs in order to keep your spine stable, even if it is just reaching into a cabinet to get a cup.
So what can I do?
- Make sure to talk to your child’s doctor before starting any exercise programs.
- Encourage your children to sit with good posture using their core to align their body. This means their shoulder blades should be pulled down and toward each other. Their heads should be in a line over their shoulders. They should be drawing their belly button in toward their spine, and they should not have a big curve in their lower back.
- Sitting on Swiss/Therapy balls while sitting at a table or while playing video games so it can activate the core muscles while doing homework or having play time.
- Have plank competitions as a family to engage everyone’s core.
- Get moving … taking family walks, riding bikes, swimming, getting involved in physical activities such as Karate, dance, gymnastics to name just a few.
- Pilates and yoga classes are both good ways to work on core strength once your child has learned the basics.
Hopefully this article helped to explain a little bit more about the core. If you child is having pain, or is having a difficult time with the ideas above, consider talking with your doctor about a referral for physical therapy.
About the author
Jacky Arrow, PT, DPT, SCS, is a physical therapist for the SPORTS program at Cook Children's. Our physicians, therapists, nurses and technologists work exclusively with kids and understand the unique needs of a growing athlete's bones, muscles, body and mind.