We have all heard the buzzword ‘core strength’ being thrown around with respect to health and fitness in adults, and know we should all be working on it. But, what most of us don’t think about is how important core strength is for children and their development. Let’s start at the beginning…
What is the ‘core’?
There is actually an inner core and an outer core set of muscles and they need to work together. Our inner core is made up of the transversus abdominus, the pelvic floor, the respiratory diaphragm and the multifidus. These four muscles work together deep in the body to stabilize our spine and pelvis. Our outer core includes the rectus abdominus, the erector spinae, the external obliques and the muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades and hips. These are the larger muscles that do more of the moving. The key is for both the inner and outer cores to work in harmony with each other.
Why is core important?
The core muscles primary role is to provide balance and stability – this is no different in children and is, in fact, more important than in adults, as it is the foundation of all skills.
Children should be developing strength from the inside, aka core, outwards to the arms and legs. This starts with posture/alignment. Children with weak cores often look like they are melting when sitting on the floor or in a chair, or will use compensation strategies such as W-sitting to keep more stable. Without this foundation, children can have difficulty with balance, and the more complex gross motor functions such as running, jumping or even playing soccer. Less often thought of consequences can include difficulty with fine motor tasks such as writing and speech concerns.
How do those relate, you ask? With fine motor tasks it is important to have a solid trunk and shoulder control, ie. core strength, which then allows easier hand manipulation and more control. Speech can be affected by a weak core, as one of the four inner core muscles is the respiratory diaphragm which controls our breathing. Without a properly functioning inner core, controlling and timing our breathing becomes difficult, which then affects how we speak. Amazing how important our core control is in so many different ways.
How do we work on core strength?
Of course, most of us know the traditional ab exercises, however, these are not the best way to work on both the inner and outer core muscles. On top of that, for us to engage these muscles properly, we need be in good alignment. In children it can be an even bigger challenge as, of course, they don’t want to do exercises and so it needs to be fun!
It’s important if you suspect your child has a weak core to see your paediatric physiotherapist to ensure your kiddo has ideal alignment and to work on increasing their core strength.