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Myth that transverse abdominis (TA) works in isolation

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Pain in the lower back and hip region can commonly be attributed to having a "weak core" or a "lack of core stability" by many healthcare practitioners. This leads to plenty of advice about activating the core and many hours lost going into thinking about whether you're activating the correct part of core muscles or not. Unfortunately, it also leads many people to become scared about moving in certain ways or taking part in activities they really enjoy because they're worried about their weak core and that they're vulnerable to getting hurt.

A muscle that get the blame majority of time is a corset-like muscle called the transverse abdominis (TA), which has long been believed to be the foundation of having a strong core. However, this now appears to be a really outdated way of thinking about the causes for low back pain, because not only has there not been a link made between a weak TA muscle and the onset of pain, but we actually haven't been able to find an exercise that can selectively strengthen this muscle. And it definitely begs the question as to how important this is, when low back pain affects everyone from athletes to labourers and even those working from home and those who don't exercise much at all, all of whom would have varying levels of "core" strength who often experience back pain at pretty similar rates.

It's important to know that while there can be many factors which may related to risk of developing pain, being scared to move because your core has been labelled as weak definitely is not one of them. Physiotherapists often prescribe exercises that could be listed under the core stabilisation banner, however these are often prescribed under the pretense of allowing short term symptom reduction and building confidence in those who are fearful of movement.

The takeaway message here is that the label of a weak core often does not have any scientific research underpinning it, and it instead acts as a barrier to completing exercise you find enjoyment and fulfillment with. Motion is lotion and any and all activities allow us to keep not only our core strong, but the rest of our muscles too!

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