The Healthy Spine Exercise Guide

This guide can help you better understand your exercise program to keep your spine healthy.

Exercise is a vital part of improving and maintaining normal, comfortable spine function. The primary aims of an exercise program for your spine are to make the muscles of your back, neck, stomach, and limbs strong and flexible. It is important to exercise regularly so you can maintain your fitness level. Regular exercise is important to prevent back pain and injury.

Research has shown that people who are physically fit are more resistant to spine injuries and pain, and recover quicker when they do have injuries, than those who are less physically fit.

Before beginning any exercise program, check with your health-care specialist to make sure that there are no medical considerations that would change your approach to the exercise program.

Do not ignore pain. You have to stop doing exercises immediately and contact your spine-care specialist if it increases pain or causes tingling, numbness, or weakness in your legs or arms.

The following exercises are not recommended.

  • Avoid bending over to stretch the hamstrings.  Forward flexion past 70° stresses the lower back.
  • Avoid any kind of double leg lift. Hip flexor and lower back muscles perform much of the work in a double leg lift. It also increases the pressure inside the intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine and can potentially cause disc herniation.
  • Avoid flexion and rotation exercises. Flexion and rotation exercises put the back in the most vulnerable position for injury.
  • Avoid lifting the arms and legs at the same time as it increases the pressure inside the intervertebral discs in the lumbar spine and can potentially cause disc herniation.
  • Avoid neck rolls. Head circles compress the cervical intervertebral discs and can potentially cause nerve damage.

EXERCISE PROGRAM
The following exercises are recommended for people who currently are not experiencing back pain. Modifications to this exercise regimen are necessary if you have back pain.

Knee to Chest
Starting Position: Lie on your back on a firm surface.

Action: Clasp your hands behind the thigh and pull it towards your chest. Keep the opposite leg flat on the surface maintain the position for 20-30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. Repeat up to 10 times.

Pelvic Tilt
Starting Position: Lie on your back on a firm surface. Your feet are flat on the surface and the knees are bent.

Action: Push the small of your back into the floor by pulling the lower abdominal muscles up and in. Hold your back flat while breathing easily in and out. Hold for 5-7 seconds. Do not hold breath. Repeat up to 10 times.

Hip Rolling
Starting Position: Lie on your back on a firm surface. Both knees bent, feet flat on the surface.Action: Cross your arms over your chest. Turn your head (trunk) to the right as you turn both knees to the left. Allow your knees to relax and go down without forcing. Bring knees back up, head to center. Reverse directions. Repeat up to 10 times.
Pelvic Lift
Starting Position: Lie on your back on a flat surface. Your feet are flat on the surface and your knees are bent. Keep your legs together; cross your arms over your chest.Action: Tilt your pelvis and push your low back to the floor as in the previous exercise, then slowly lift your buttocks off the floor as far as possible without straining. Maintain this position for 5-7 seconds. Lower your buttocks to the surface. Do not hold breath. Repeat up to 10 times.

Hollow Back
Starting Position: Kneel down on the floor and assume the “all-four’s” position. Keep your head straight so that the gaze of your eyes is toward the floor.

Action: Slowly allow your trunk to sag as far as you can so that your back is hollowed. Do not pull it down, but let it relax as you lift up your face towards the ceiling. Repeat up to 10 times.

Arched Back
Starting Position: Kneel down on the floor and assume the “all-four’s” position. Keep your head straight so that the gaze of your eyes is toward the floor.

Action: Round your back up at the waist as far as you can by contracting your lower abdominal muscles as you lower the top of your head toward the floor. All motion should be initiated from your low back. Repeat up to 10 times.

Tail Wagging
Starting Position: Kneel on a mat and assume the “all-four’s” position. Keep your head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor.

Action: Keeping your shoulders still, move your right hip toward your right shoulder as far as you can. Slowly return to the starting position then move your left hip toward your left shoulder as far as you can. Repeat up to 10 times.

Leg Straightened
Starting Position: Kneel on a mat and assume the “all-four’s” position. Keep your head in a neutral position by looking down at the floor.

Action: Bring one knee toward your head as you lower the head. Extend the head up and slowly extend and then raise your leg. Return to the starting position. Repeat, alternating legs. Repeat up to 10 times.

Hand-Knee Rocking
Starting Position: Kneel on a mat with your knees and ankles. Allow your buttocks to rest on your heels.

Action: Take your upper body over so you are in a crouched position with your arms stretched out in front of you. Relax in this position and then slowly move forward with your elbows straight into a press-up position. Repeat up to 10 times.

Lying Prone In Extension
Starting Position: Lie on your stomach on a mat with your weight on your forearms.

Action: Lie on your stomach on a mat and lean on your elbows. Stay in this position for about 5-7 seconds, making sure that you relax your low back completely. Repeat up to 10 times.

Back Extension
Starting Position: Lie on your stomach on a mat. Place your arms at your sides so that your hands are by your hips.

Action: Raise your head and shoulders off the mat as high as comfortably possible. Hold for 5-7 seconds. Lower the head and shoulders. Do not tense your shoulder muscles. Repeat up to 10 times.

Hip Extension
Starting Position: Lie on your stomach on a mat. Bend your knee to a 90 degree angle so the sole of your toot faces the ceiling.

Action: Lift one thigh off the mat approximately 6 inches by raising your foot toward the ceiling. Your hip bones do not leave the surface as you lift the leg. Slowly lower your thigh back to the starting position. Repeat up to 10 times.

Full Back Release
Starting Position: Sit in a chair with your feet flat. Relax your shoulders and keep your head level. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your buttocks and your feet.

Action: Relax your neck. Curl your neck, upper back and low back slowly forward. Allow your hands to reach the floor so your palms are touching the floor. Hold for 5-7 seconds. Straighten up slowly so that you bring your head up last. Return to the starting position. Repeat up to 10 times.

Upper Back Stretch
Starting Position: Sit on a stool with your back flat against a wall.

Action: Lift your arms overhead, keeping your head and back flat against the wall. Hold for 5-7 seconds. See if your shoulders can touch the wall while keeping your back flat, hold for 5-7 seconds. Lower your hands to the starting position. Repeat up to 10 times.

Side Bending
Starting Position: Stand up straight with your arms at your sides and your feet shoulder width apart.

Action: Bend your trunk to one side, by lowering your shoulder. Run your hand down the outside of your thigh. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Slowly straighten up. Repeat to the opposite side. Repeat up to 10 times.

Backward Bending
Starting Position: Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your knees as straight as possible. Place your hands on your back firmly at your waist level.

Action: Bend backwards at your waist keeping the knees as straight as possible. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Return slowly to the upright position. Repeat up to 10 times.

Neck Exercises
Side Resistance
Starting Position: Standing or sitting in the chair, hold one hand against the side of your head.Action: Use your hand to resist the movement as you try to touch your shoulder with your ear. Hold this posture for a count of 5. Relax and repeat on opposite side. Do 5-10 times.

Forward Resistance
Starting Position: Standing or sitting in the chair, hold both hands against your forehead.

Action: Try to move head forward, but resist the movement with your hands. Hold this posture for a count of 5 and relax. Do 5-10 times.

Backward Resistance
Starting Position: Standing or sitting in the chair, place both hands behind your head.

Action: Try to move head backwards, but resist the movement with your hands. Don’t tip chin. Hold this posture for a count of 5 and then relax. Do 5-10 times.

Side Stretch
Starting Position: Sit on a firm, comfortable straight-backed chair. Keep your shoulders square by gently putting your hands at the side of the chair to help make sure you are not tilting you shoulders.

Action: Tilt your head gently to the left, bringing your left ear toward your left shoulder. When your neck becomes tight, push a little further and count to 5. Slowly bring your head back to the center. Repeat, tilting your head to the right. Remember to keep your shoulders square during the exercise.
Repeat the left and right sequence up to 10 times.

Rotation Stretch
Starting Position: Sit on a firm, comfortable straight-backed chair. Keep your shoulders square. Tuck in your chin.

Action: Turn your neck slowly, moving your chin toward your left shoulder, as if attempting to look over your shoulder. When it feels tight, gently push a little further. Slowly count to 5. Gently bring your neck back to the center. Remember to keep your shoulders square during this exercise. Repeat, turning your head to the right. Now repeat the left and right sequence up to 10 times.