Purpose: The influence of a core-strengthening program on low back pain (LBP) occurrence and hip strength differences were studied in NCAA Division I collegiate athletes.
Methods: In 1998, 1999, and 2000, hip strength was measured during preparticipation physical examinations and occurrence of LBP was monitored throughout the year. Following the 1999-2000 preparticipation physicals, all athletes began participation in a structured core-strengthening program, which emphasized abdominal, paraspinal, and hip extensor strengthening. Incidence of LBP and the relationship with hip muscle imbalance were compared between consecutive academic years.
Results: After incorporation of core strengthening, there was no statistically significant change in LBP occurrence. Side-to-side extensor strength between athletes participating in both the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 physicals were no different. After core strengthening, the right hip extensor was, on average, stronger than that of the left hip extensor (P = 0.0001). More specific gender differences were noted after core strengthening. Using logistic regression, female athletes with weaker left hip abductors had a more significant probability of requiring treatment for LBP (P = 0.009)
Conclusion: The impact of core strengthening on collegiate athletes has not been previously examined. These results indicated no significant advantage of core strengthening in reducing LBP occurrence, though this may be more a reflection of the small numbers of subjects who actually required treatment. The core program, however, seems to have had a role in modifying hip extensor strength balance. The association between hip strength and future LBP occurrence, observed only in females, may indicate the need for more gender-specific core programs. The need for a larger scale study to examine the impact of core strengthening in collegiate athletes is demonstrated.