Science Zone: The Importance of Core Strength in Neurological Rehabilitation

In the latest blog of our Science Zone series, our Specialist Neurological Physiotherapist, Zoë Gerrard explains why building and maintaining core strength is crucial for neurological rehabilitation.

Stability and Balance

A strong core provides the building blocks which are essential for movement and coordination. This is particularly important for individuals with neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke or Parkinson’s disease, which can affect balance and coordination. We can’t voluntarily and selectively move if we don’t have a stable base. This starts with our core.

Functional Movement

Many activities of daily living require core strength, including sitting, standing, walking, and reaching. Strengthening the core muscles helps individuals regain and improve their ability to perform these functional movements, enhancing independence and quality of life. A specific example of this is enabling spinal cord patients to sit at a perched stool position and reaching outside their base of support to complete tasks at a kitchen countertop. Our core enables to do such tasks, without needing to lean on or hold onto something for balance.

Posture

Core muscles play a key role in maintaining proper posture. Poor posture can exacerbate neurological symptoms and lead to discomfort and pain. This can be noted in stroke patients, where the affected side can lead to a reduction in gait quality, increasing their reliance on gait aids. By strengthening the core, individuals can improve their posture, reducing strain on the spine and supporting overall musculoskeletal health.

Transfer of Movement

Core contributes to the ability to transfer weight and movement from one part of the body to another. This is important for tasks such as transferring from sitting to standing or moving from one surface to another (e.g., bed to wheelchair). Improving core strength can enhance the efficiency and safety of these movements, especially those experiencing high spinal cord injuries. This enables patients to transfer weight outside their base of support whilst maintaining proximal control.

Injury Prevention

A strong core can help prevent injuries by providing support and stability to the spine and surrounding structures. In neurological rehabilitation, where individuals may already be at increased risk of falls or musculoskeletal injuries, improving core strength can help mitigate these risks and promote overall safety. In addition, those with a stronger core and surrounding musculature that aid respiration, can also prevent respiratory conditions or comorbidities by increasing their gaseous exchange and lung volume.

Neural Plasticity

Engaging in exercises that target the core muscles can stimulate neural pathways and promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganise and form new connections in response to learning or injury. This can support recovery and rehabilitation efforts following neurological damage or dysfunction, by increasing patients’ engagement, leading to further accumulation, intensity, and recovery from rehabilitation.

Overall, building core strength is essential for all patients, regardless of their condition and we continuously refine our rehabilitation programmes to our patients’ goals, incorporating the building blocks for a wider effect.  To find out more about are approach to neurological rehabilitation and our intensive programmes, give us a call on 0151 665 0266 for an informal chat.