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Spine Exercises

How does exercising help my spine?


Here are some ways exercise can help your spine:

  1. Muscles around the spine are strengthened and can support the spine directly
  2. Muscles of the abdomen (core), hips and legs are strengthened which support the spine indirectly.
  3. More oxygen is delivered to the spine.
  4. Blood flow to the spine is increased which may help decrease inflammation.
  5. Posture can be improved which may benefit the spine
  6. Exercise is important in maintaining a healthy, balanced spine
  7. Exercise can accelerate the recovery from certain spine surgeries
  8. Exercise can help with feeling depressed from pain
  9. Exercise can break the cycle of chronic pain and spasm
  10. Exercise actually releases chemicals (endorphins) which can help with pain
  11. Exercise may help with weight loss which may lessen the strain on the spine

Can exercise hurt my spine?

Mild to moderate exercising is unlikely to hurt our spine. Depending on the types of exercises, patients may experience some pain or worsening of their usual pain. This does not necessarily mean that the spine is being damaged. Pain which resolves after we stop exercising is generally not thought to be harmful to our spine. However, pain which escalates significantly during an exercise and then persists, may not be normal.

When starting a new exercise, it is often normal to experience some pain. This may simply relate to muscles which are sore after being used differently than they are used to. Sometimes joints which are chronically inflamed may begin to ache. This type of pain should improve as the exercise is continued over time. If it persists, or worsens it may be time to find a different exercise.

In general, running on hard surfaces is not a good activity for patients with a significant spine problem. The pounding from the hard surface will transmit to the spine and can aggravate disc and joint problems.

Can some exercises be bad for my spine?

Here are some examples of exercises which may be bad for your spine:

  1. Standing toe touches: can put too much pressure on a disc in the low back
  2. Full sit ups: these can also stress the disc; crunches are typically better
  3. Leg lifts while lying on the back: can worsen back pain
  4. Swimming strokes: fast swimming strokes such as the butterfly or front crawl can aggravate the spine
  5. Bicycling while bending far forward: a classic example would be using an old 10-speed bike with low handlebars. The spine is bent too far forward which can aggravate a disc problem.
  6. Weight lifting: Deadlifts are typically very bad for the spine. Avoid them.
  7. Running on hard pavement.


How long should I exercise for?

When starting out, 15-20 minutes of exercise every other day may be best. After that, the activity can be increased by 5-10 minutes every other week.

How do I know if the exercise is helping my back?

Here are some examples:

  1. Pain may be lessened
  2. Pain may not be as frequent
  3. Pain may no longer be present in certain positions or situations
  4. Spine spasms may improve
  5. The spine may feel more stable and supported
  6. Legs may feel stronger
  7. The back does not get tired as easily

What are the best exercises for my back?

  1. Exercises for Disc Problems
  • Bridge exercises
  • Exercise ball stretch: stretching over an exercise ball either on the stomach or back
  • Wall push ups
  • Hook-lying march: lying on the back with knees bent, slowly marching in place while keeping legs 2-4 inches off the ground for 20-30 seconds
  • Leg raises: lying on stomach, raising each leg off the ground alternating for 6-8 seconds
  • “Dog”: on all fours, head up, stomach lowered towards ground, hold for 30 seconds
  • “Sphinx”: lying on stomach, raise upper body while leaving pelvis on floor; create as much of an arch as comfortable
  • Standing back extension


      2. Exercises for Spinal Stenosis

  • Swimming
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Flexion Exercises:
  1. “Curl Ups”: lying on back, arms at side, knees bent, pelvis tilted, lift head and shoulders off floor for 5 sec
  2. Oblique trunk raises: lying on back, knees slightly bent, bring one arm to the opposite knee
  3. Prone trunk raises: lying on stomach, arms at sides, tighten buttock muscles, raise head and shoulders up from floor for 5-10 seconds
  4. Alternating leg and arm lift:
  5. Spine Stenosis Flexibility Exercises
  6. Hamstring stretches
  7. Double knee chest


      3. Exercises for Sciatica

  1. Piriformis stretches
  2. Hamstring stretches
  3. Low Back Stretches
  4. McKenzie for sciatica
  5. Extension exercises
  6. Core strength

What are Yoga, Pilates and Tai chi?

  1. Yoga

What does “Yoga” mean?

Yoga originated in ancient India. It started as part of the Hindu religion where physical and spiritual exercises were combined into the practice of Yoga. The goal of practicing traditional Yoga is to achieve a state of spiritual insight which causes tranquility. Meditation and exercises are used together to reach this peace of mind and body.

How is Yoga practiced today?

In the Western world Yoga is typically practiced as a form of specific exercises with or without meditation. It is often used as a mind-body technique to reduces stress and promote health. “Hatha Yoga” is a form of Yoga which focuses on physical exercises and is usually a good starting point for spine patients new to Yoga.

What are Yoga exercises?

Yoga exercises hold certain postures of the body while breathing in a specific pattern. Holding these positions is a form of exercise since specific muscles are used to maintain them. The muscles are exercised by maintaining the postures which requires flexibility and strength. The better the technique and the longer a posture is held, the more exercise is performed. Patients with spine pain are often tight in specific muscle groups of the shoulders, hips, and back which can be loosened by Yoga.

There are also a variety of yoga styles available ranging from light to strenuous exercises to fit different needs.

Since Yoga focuses on balance and proper posture, patients with abnormal spine curvatures such as scoliosis may especially benefit from Yoga exercises.

Should I get a Yoga teacher?

If you suffer from spine pain it is best to get a Yoga teacher involved and do formal classes, rather than trying it on your own. The Yoga teacher can select a style and degree of Yoga which may be best for your spine.Make sure to tell the Yoga teacher what type of spine problem the spine specialist has diagnosed you with.

Some Yoga studios offer specialized Yoga classes, which can include ‘Yoga for Back Pain’.

How can Yoga help the spine?

  1. Yoga can help stretch spine muscles to help with spasms
  2. Yoga can strengthen spine muscles
  3. Yoga can help regain flexibility of the spine
  4. Yoga can promoted healing of injured parts of the spine
  5. Yoga promotes blood flow to the spine
  6. Yoga promotes oxygen delivery to the spine
  7. Yoga promotes nutrients flowing to the spine
  8. Yoga promotes a good posture
  9. Yoga helps with balancing the parts of the body
  10. Yoga can help with proper gait
  11. Yoga promotes body awareness
  12. The breathing techniques taught in Yoga can offer relaxation


Can Yoga hurt my spine?

Before starting Yoga, patients who suffer from spine problems should see a spine specialist to make sure that Yoga positions cannot injure the spine. While it is not likely that Yoga in general causes spine injuries, some patients do have conditions where certain Yoga positions should be eliminated from the exercise.

It is generally recommended to start Yoga with light stretches and gentle Yoga postures, before progressing to more strenuous routines. Positions which are painful should be avoided.


2. Pilates

Where did Pilates come from?

Pilates was invented by a German healer, Joseph Pilates, in the early 20th century. He believed that the mental and physical health were strongly related and designed specific exercises with that in mind.

What are the ‘Pilates Principles’?

Two of Joseph Pilate’s early followers created 6 main principles which guide Pilates exercises:

  1. Concentration
  2. Control
  3. Centering
  4. Flow or Efficiency of Movement
  5. Precision
  6. Breathing

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a routine of body conditioning exercises which create strength, flexibility and endurance in the muscles of the arms, legs, abdomen, hips and back. The emphasis is on coordination and balance between different muscle groups, promoting good core strength and stability.

Are there different types of Pilates?

Pilates is divided into two approaches: Traditional (Classic, Authentic) and Contemporary (Modern).

Traditional Pilates stays close to the original teachings of Joseph Pilates. The exercises are done in a specific sequence and the devices used are made to the original specifications.

Modern Pilates breaks the exercises down into groups and will vary the sequence. Props and devices different from the original teachings are used.

How are Pilates exercises done?

Pilates exercises rely on strong core muscles which form a “powerhouse” from which controlled movements are generated.

Joseph Pilates designed the Pilates exercises to be performed on a floor mat using several devices. These devices contain springs which offer resistance training. Each device has its own role and associated exercises.

Modern Pilates also uses props such as exercise balls, foam rolls, and resistance bands.

How can Pilates help my spine?

The main benefit of Pilates for the spine is thought to come from creating a very strong core. This core strength can help balance the spine and the muscles associated with it.

Can Pilates hurt my spine?

For patients with spine problems, it is strongly advised to see a spine specialist before starting Pilates. It is also advisable to use a formal Pilates teacher to start. That teacher should know about your spine problem and can help design a proper Pilates exercise program.

3. Tai Chi

What does “Tai Chi” mean?

“Tai Chi” is short for “Tai Chi Chuan” which is Chinese for “Supreme Ultimate Force”. The meaning of “Tai Chi Chuan” relates to the old Chinese philosophy of “Yin-Yang”. “Yin-Yang” means that forces in nature always oppose each other. For any given force there is one which resists it. In “Tai Chi Chuan” one learns to use passive force (supreme ultimate force) to resist a force.

What is Tai Chi?

Even though, Tai Chi is traditionally a martial art form, it is practiced nowadays in the Western world as essentially a combination of meditation and exercise. While standing, specific smooth and gentle movements (forms) are used to simulate counteracting a force. While some practitioners of Tai Chi simulate this force to be an attacker, most think of it as a form of exercise and meditation in harmony with the forces of nature.

How can Tai Chi help my spine?

Tai Chi uses balance, alignment, motor (movement) control and rhythm of movement to achieve relaxation. These movements may help with:

  1. Poor posture
  2. Muscle Spasms
  3. Improved standing, walking, moving
  4. Balance problems
  5. Flexibility

Can Tai Chi hurt my spine?

One should always consult a spine specialist before starting a new exercise routine such as Tai Chi. Compared to high impact exercises, Tai Chi is a slow, smooth and gentle form of exercise which is not likely to injure the spine.