When our neck or back hurts, we move differently – in Physical Therapy we call it compensatory movement patterns. Studies have shown us on all of our major joints that this process leads to loss of strength and even atrophy (wasting or loss of muscle tissue). The spine is not immune to this process and this loss of strength leads to poor control of gravitational and movement forces that can lead to more pain and “instability”.
Spinal stabilization, sometimes referred to as core stabilization, typically takes on a different meaning to a Physical Therapist than a personal trainer. Many of our patients that follow regular work out regimes with and without a trainer, are usually surprised to find that they lack functional hip strength and that their inability to activate transverse abdominis is a problem that is perpetuating their back pain. A Physical Therapist should look at not simply just strengthening your “core” muscles but creating increased neuromuscular control and either reinforcing or reestablishing essential muscular force couples in the spine for increased biomechanical efficiency and ultimately “stabilization” of the spine. By achieving this stability we are looking to decrease pain by decreasing the abnormal mechanical forces on the joints, discs, and nerves of spine.
Often it takes a multi-level approach to gain control of this pain and dysfunction process (see back pain) depending on the length of time you've been hurting or the extent of pathology (disease process/damage) to the tissues. A good spinal stabilization program should include not only exercises, but education on postural and lifting mechanics and nutrition along with use of physical agents to control pain and promote healing.