Core strength refers to control of the muscles that support the spine. These muscles function to align, stabilize, and move the trunk and the spine.
But to discuss spinal stability, we also have to consider proprioception, or body awareness.
Spinal stability is dependent on both muscle strength and sensory input. The senses constantly alert the nervous system about changes in the environment, allowing for refinement of movement.
Exercises that improve core strength also improve proprioception. And exercises that improve proprioception also improve core strength.
Lack of core strength can lead to lack of efficiency of movement and compensation, leading to muscle strain and overuse injuries. This is important for both the athlete and the pet dog.
Core strengthening exercises are beneficial because they:
- Improve body awareness (proprioception)
- Provide stability of the spine
- Improve balance
- Help maintain mobility in older or injured dogs
- Improve athletic performance
- May prevent injury
Dogs that are competitive often need to cover terrain that can be unpredictable. Having a strong core and good balance can prevent injury by helping them adjust to changes in footing. This is especially true for dogs that participate in search and rescue, hunting and field trials, and sledding.
Athletic dogs also need to be able to land on their feet safely. This means they need good body awareness. This is important for any dog that is required to jump, including dogs that participate in agility, dock diving, and fly ball.
Dogs that compete in conformation need to be able to move with fluidity and have a good topline. Because they involve the muscles that support the spine, core strengthening exercises can improve both movement and topline.
Athletic dogs need to be able to make hard, fast turns. They need to be able to combine speed and accuracy. Having a strong core improves body awareness and improves spinal stability so that they can have better athletic performance with less risk of injury.
Older dogs tend to have arthritis, which can decrease the range of motion in affected joints. They often compensate by overusing muscles in the back. Carefully chosen exercises can strengthen underused muscles and stretch overused muscles so that they can be more functional.
Core strength can help older dogs maintain stability when walking on slippery floors and when making turns.
Having good core strength can help older dogs maintain mobility.
Any time a joint is affected by surgery or injury, proprioception in that joint is decreased. Core strengthening is part of recovery from injury or surgery to help improve that body awareness and to help the dog return to a normal gait.
Some injuries, such as disc disease, directly affect the spinal cord. These dogs need help with proprioception. They also benefit from stability in the spine. Gentle core strengthening activities are part of the recovery so that affected dogs can regain mobility.