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19 Nov 2017

Does the dog actually need core stability?

Core Stability

Hi Laurie.

I have attended many of your courses when you have been in the UK and wondered if you could answer a simple question.  Does 'core stability exist in the dog' and if so is it relevant?

I am a spinal physio by background and have read masses of research on core stability in humans and because we humans are upright and have a narrow base of support it makes sense we need a strong centre of gravity.

However, is this true in the dog?  The concept of core has been extrapolated from human work but I cannot find any research that suggests dogs need a strong core.  They are after all built differently with a lower centre of gravity and more legs on the ground.

So... my simple question is,  Do you know of any research that has looked at core stability in dogs?

I cannot find any relevant research and therefore the concept of core in dogs and performance must anecdotal and an assumption that because we humans need a strong core then dogs do as well.......

Kindest Regards

SW

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Hey S!

That is a fabulous question!!  The long and short of it is that I have never seen research on ‘core stability’ on dogs.

Clinically, I feel it is less of an issue as well.

That being said, I have found some dogs with back pain / SIJ pain that have what I would call poor motor control and timing (i.e. their abdominals or glutes don’t ‘fire’ appropriately or preparatively before taking weight (when I test using a 3-leg stand - sliding a rear leg off the ground). Their pelvis drops or they cheat by hiking their leg forward / upward off the ground.  This is corrected and the dog is able to do the task if I manually or electrically stimulate the abdominals or glutes.  On lesser occasions, I have seen better balance / coordination with this test when I stimulate the epaxials / multifidus OR the latissimus dorsi muscles.

Is this a lack of Core or simply a muscle inhibition due to pain (at some point in time)?

The same issue can be seen with poor quads or glutes firing (with the same 3-leg slide test) in dogs with knee issues or hip issues.

Would I consider this to be ‘core’?  Maybe, maybe not.  I call it motor control and timing.  

I have seen this same issue (pelvis drop with the 3-leg stand test) in dogs after an abdominal surgery (i.e. a spay)… THAT, I guess we might call ‘core’.   Oh, and I have had some improvement with female urinary incontinence and doing the same exercise / test while stimulating the pelvic floor in these dogs prior to sliding the leg.

Core?  Kinda.  Or again, do these examples go back to pain at some point that ‘turned off’ the motor control aspect of their abdominal firing?

But for the large part… I think you are correct.  CORE issues are not nearly as prevalent, and there is no research to back up its relevance / importance in quadrupeds.

I’d love to hear more on your thoughts as well!

Cheers,

Laurie

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Hi Laurie.

Good to hear from you.

I have for a long time believed that 'core' stability is not an issue in dogs.  Here in the UK and I suspect the same for you is that I see so many 'dog fit trainers' pushing core wobble board exercises to sell equipment on the pretense that working dogs need a strong core to perform their sport...... and the upshot is that people are putting these poor dogs on wobble cushions with no idea what they are doing.  It is BIG business here in the UK and it sells equipment…

Core issues do exist in people... I agree with you though, it is more to do with poor motor control and firing prior to movement. There have been masses of research using EMG studies and it has been shown that the spinal stabilisers are delayed in firing in individuals with low back pain.  The question there is did the poor recruitment of the stabilisers cause the back pain or vice versa.  

I agree totally with your thoughts on it being a muscle recruitment / motor control issue in dogs following injury or dysfunction.

With regard to the leg slide test, do you think there might be an element in learning, i.e the dog does not understand the exercise and if repeated then there is an improvement as the dog learns to 'control' for want of a better word his 3-legged stance, and only in the true weakness or muscle issue do we see a repeat drop or lack of control?

The concept of 'core' is only seen in the pet dog working field i.e agility / flyball / trial / obedience.

The true working dogs like farm dogs that can cover up to 70 miles a day on rough ground / the working huskies covering miles upon miles of heavy sled work and racing greyhounds achieving explosives speeds don’t need 'core' exercises.

However, if injuries are not treated effectively then there can be muscle recruitment / motor control issues which could affect performance in the working dog.

I also believe in conditioning for a sport working on specific exercise that builds muscle memory / muscle rehearsal related to the sport undertaken by the dog to help improve performance and reduce potential injury.

I also think that there may be a benefit in proximal stability work for the shoulders and hips working on the small stabilisers ultimately allowing the large muscle to move the limb efficiently. 

Maybe Laurie, we need to do research on whether the dog has a 'core' and its relevance in the sporting dog..... 🙂🙂🙂

Good to chat with you…

Regards

S.

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Intelligent thoughts S.

In regards to my leg-slide test.  I have tended to only find it present in animals that have had pain or dysfunction.  But never in the ‘normal’ (non-painful / non-dysfunctional) dogs, and/or not in early stages of dysfunction (i.e. a known injury / fall etc, was witnessed by the owner and the dog is presented quickly for a check up).  I believe the +ve pelvic drop with testing manifests only due to pain or long term dysfunction.  That being said, I am aware of the research (Paul Hodges et al) that has found motor control & timing issues that later progress to be the root of back pain, and as such, I am open to a broader perspective than that of which I have witnessed.  In regards to a ‘learned response’ to the exercise, I’ve not seen that happen without manual or electrical facilitation to ‘normalize’ the motor control deficit.

And indeed, the best summation, is that more research is needed.

Thanks again for this fabulous discussion!

Cheers,

 

Laurie

 

Tags: core stability , motor control , timing , abdominals , glutes , proximal stabilizers , pain , dysfunction

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