A healthy spine can withstand more pressure and stress, helping to avoid or minimize injury, and relieve pain from a variety of back conditions. While you cannot target the spine itself, you can strengthen the group of muscles that surround and stabilize it, called the erector spinae, with a few simple exercises per day.
Although not technically a fitness exercise, maintaining proper posture is one of the easiest and most important ways to strengthen the muscles around the spine. When you practice good posture, you support the natural curves in your back, which keeps the spine stable and strong. Poor posture, on the other hand, not only impairs spine health, but also is associated with health conditions such as weight gain, heartburn, migraines, depression and respiratory conditions.
To achieve proper posture, keep each part of the body in alignment with the neighboring parts, so that all body parts are balanced and supported. Sit or stand with the upper back and neck comfortably straight, the head level and in line with your body.
Strengthening the neck makes posture easier to hold and takes pressure of the spine. To begin, try a forward flexion stretch to help ease muscular aches. While standing or sitting, gently bend the head forward, while bringing the chin towards the chest until you feel the stretch in the back of neck, and repeat 5-10 times.
Next, try a lateral flexion stretch, or an ear to shoulder stretch, which targets the shoulders, neck area and back muscles. Gently bend the neck to one side as if to touch the ear to the shoulder until the stretch is felt in the side of the neck. Switch to stretch the other side and repeat.
The front plank strengthens the core, which reduces stress in the muscles around the spine and builds spinal stability. To start, lie on the floor facedown, resting on your forearms with your elbows at your side. With your palms down, face your hands away from your head. Hold in your abdominal muscles and with your feet resting on your toes, lift your body slowly with your back straight. Hold this position for one minute, or as long as you can stand, slowly lowering yourself back to the starting position.
Although pushups are best known for targeting the chest, shoulders and arms, they also engage and strengthen the erector spinae, as the muscles help to stabilize the body during the exercise. Get into a high plank position with your hands firmly on the ground under shoulders and your back flattened, so that your entire body is neutral and straight. Bend your elbows to lower your body until your chest grazes the floor, your back in a straight line from head to toe. Elbows tucked close to your body and your core engaged, exhale as you push back to the starting position. Repeat 10-20 times.
If you spend long periods at an office desk, counteract the pressure on your spine with a spine-stretching and muscle-strengthening hip bridge. Start by lying on your back with feet flat and hip-width apart, arms relaxed and knees bent. Squeeze your buttocks as you lift your hips, creating a straight line from the knees to the shoulders. Hold for a slow count of two, then lower slowly. Build up to 10 to 12 repetitions.
A stability ball can lend extra support during spine strengthening exercises, and bring movement to the spine in a controlled manner. A simple stability exercise is a prone walk out, in which you lie on the ball, stomach down and steady yourself with your hands and feet on the floor. While holding in your abdominal muscles, lift your legs and keep them straight. Walk forward with your hands while you gently roll across the ball, moving until your thighs are resting on the ball. To finish, slowly walk backwards to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
Many yoga poses promote flexibility in the spine, making it an ideal workout for releasing tight muscles in the back and enhancing overall spine health. The most basic and well-known yoga pose, downward dog, uses the strength of the arms and legs to fully and evenly stretch the spine, and decrease tension in the surrounding muscles. Begin on all fours and spread the palms wide, stacking the shoulders over the wrists with the knees hip distance apart. Walk the hands in front of the shoulders, ground into the palms and raise the knees off the mat, lifting the hips. Slowly straighten the legs, holding for 5-10 or more breaths, and releasing onto the knees to come out of the posture. Return to downward dog throughout your yoga practice, or repeat 5-10 times in a row.
Another yoga pose that stretches and exercises extension of the spine is cow pose. Begin with your hands and knees on the floor with your knees set directly below your hips and your wrists. As you inhale, lift your chest towards the ceiling and look straightforward. On the exhale, return to a neutral position on your hands and knees. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
If you’ve been feeling pain in your back or spine, contact our office for a consultation.