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Stronger deep core muscles can help combat low back pain in runners, study suggests

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Runners who suffer from low back pain should work to strengthen the deep core muscles, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center used motion detection technology and force-measuring floor plates to show how a runners’ muscles work while they are in motion.

“We measured the dimensions of runners’ bodies and how they moved to create a computer model that’s specific to that person. That allows us to examine how every bone moves and how much pressure is put on each joint,” explained Ajit Chaudhari, associate professor of physical therapy and biomedical engineering at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who led the study. “We can then use that simulation to virtually ‘turn off’ certain muscles and observe how the rest of the body compensates.”

The research revealed that weak deep core muscles force more superficial muscles like the abs to work harder and reach fatigue faster — often with painful consequences.

“When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way,” Chaudhari said. “But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain.”

According to the researchers, experts say it’s very common for even well-conditioned athletes to neglect their deep cores, and there is a lot of misinformation online and in fitness magazines about core strength. They argue that traditional ab exercises with a large range of motion, such as sit-ups or back extensions, will not give you the strong core needed to be a better runner.

Instead, try exercises that require the core to hold the body in a stable position, such as planks or bridges on an unstable surface like a balance disc.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Biomechanics.