Spine Exercises and Rehabilitation

A Strong and Healthy Back

When you have back pain you want it to stop. Rest, medications, steroids and sometimes surgery are all very effective treatments but only exercise improves the health of your spine and provides long term function. Establishing a regular  exercise regimen that includes range of motion, strengthening, and aerobic conditioning is the single most important thing you can do not just for your spine  but your overall health, fitness, and quality of life.

Getting better without hurting

The difficulty, of course, is progressing with an exercise regimen that does not aggravate a spine or other joint related problem causing more injury and pain. This must be a gradual and thoughtful process that is tailored to each individual and his/her specific condition and diagnosis. These efforts require careful coordination  with your spine specialist, physical therapist, and training instructors. The guiding principle is to work around, not through pain, as you regain motion and flexibility, establish strength and a solid core, develop normal posture and balance, and improve aerobic fitness.


Physical therapy

After your doctor has treated your spine condition and the pain improves he will most likely recommend physical therapy to help guide you through the initial stages of your spine rehabilitation efforts. This usually involves 2 visits/wk for 2-4 weeks as the therapist begins working on range of motion and strengthening exercises and provides education on back mechanics, injury prevention, and core strengthening.  Handouts for the lumbar spine and cervical spine will help familiarize you with some of these exercises.  

Some conditions such as disc herniations will initially focus on McKenzie extension based exercises while other conditions such as spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis focus on Williams flexion based exercises. Your doctor will help determine the most effective therapy program and often recommend a follow up visit to evaluate your progress and make further recommendations or treatments.


Developing a Home Exercise Regimen

Once you’ve completed physical therapy is time to develop a home exercise program. This should include range of motion and flexibility, strengthening (especially the core), and aerobic conditioning. Everyone is different and a 38 yo construction worker will have different needs and goals than a 72 yo golfer. Similarly, each person’s goals and interests will evolve over time and your exercise regimen will need to evolve with these changes as well. Numerous books and CDs are available to help explore this options and find a program that’s right for you.