Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to email@example.com.
QUESTION: I have shoulder, neck and lower-back pain, and my general physician suggested that I exercise to improve my core strength.
Am I adding even more stress to my muscles to avoid pain? What’s your take on core exercises?
— Tim H., Mentor, Ohio
ANSWER: You have a wise doctor. Instead of loading you up with pain meds or suggesting unnecessary procedures, your physician is directing you to the first line of defense for everyday shoulder, neck and low-back pain: physical therapy coupled with core strengthening.
Strengthening deep and shallow core muscles holds your body upright and tones your belly muscles. That, in turn, creates spinal stability, improves posture, boosts balance and takes strain off the neck, back and shoulders.
When your core muscles can’t do their job, other body parts take up the slack and they end up strained and pulled out of place.
The Cleveland Clinic’s fitness specialist, Ryan Sidak, puts it concisely: “Having a strong core makes everything easier.” His recommendation is to try these two exercises:
>> Low plank (Targeting abdominal muscles and spinal erectors around your lower back): Stretch out on a mat face down. With elbows bent at a 90-degree angle in line with your shoulders, raise yourself up onto toes and forearms. Squeeze your glutes and suck your belly button toward your spine. Maintain a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels. Hold for 20 seconds, if possible. If not, do what you can and build up slowly; aim for 30 seconds.
>> Superman (Toning the lumbar region of the spine): On a mat, lie on your stomach with your feet together and your arms stretched straight out above your head. Raise your left arm and right leg, keeping your neck aligned with your spine. Hold for 2-3 seconds; relax. Alternate sides, doing 8 to 10 reps per side. Take it slow and steady; you will get stronger and have less pain.