Simple spinal strengthening is an important key to resolving neck and back pain. It’s all about symmetry. Not only symmetry right to left but front to back as well. As my OT friend says “the world is in front of us,” making it difficult to balance spinal flexion with extension. Over flexion promotes postural pain and overuse pain syndromes in the neck and back. One of my token soap boxes is that God made our bodies to move in all planes so we must continue to utilize every plane to prevent pain and treat pain. In the present age we utilize our extensors less for climbing trees and swinging and over use our flexors for sitting and reaching.
Done a back bend lately? Pretended to fly like superman? Well tusk tusk! Spinal strengthening doesn’t require equipment, and the exercises are simple but the difficulty is unbelievable. The deep and superficial back extensors, deep abdominals (transverse abdominis, obliques), and pelvic floor are the focus in these exercises as they are the core of the core. Here are some beginner exercises:
Tummy Tuck (Transverse abdominis): This is the exercise that prefaces ALL movements. Simply pull your belly button in very gently without holding your breath. Another way to do it is by gently pushing your back into the floor without holding your breath. It may take practice before you can do it while breathing! This can be done sitting, standing, lying, and walking. Do this throughout the day.
Pelvic floor: This exercise also prefaces ALL movements. Gently contract the pelvic floor as if you are stopping the flow of urine. Hold for 1-3 seconds. This can be done throughout the day as well.
Prone press up or cobra pose: Gently press up using your hands, do no lock your elbows out, your back will have to work to maintain this position. Hold 3-5 seconds and repeat.
Prone chest lift: Tighten your glutes and lift your chest keeping your arms by your side. Hold 3-5 seconds.
Prone arm lift: First perform one arm at a time, advance with arms in a “T” position, and the hardest will be with the arms up by your ears at the same time. Hold 3-5 seconds. Head can rest or elevate with the lift.
Prone leg lift: Perform one leg at a time. Progress by lifting both legs. Hold 3-5 seconds.
Plank: Raise your hand if you love planks! HA! Up on your hands or down on your elbows and lift your booty up in the air. Keep you abs and glutes engaged, no sagging. Hold 10-30 seconds.
Bridge: Lying on your back with knees bent. Simply lift your hips up in the air. This exercise can get fancy by straightening one leg after the hips are lifted. Hold 3-5 seconds.
Bow Pose or Half Bow Pose: This is the pose I dread in yoga class! Grab your ankles with your hands and push your legs out lifting your body into a bow or ball shape. Hold up to 30 seconds.
Back Extension Stretch: Sitting with legs crossed or up on your knees. Place your hands on your back or on your ankles (depending on how flexible you are), and bend back, let your head fall if comfortable. Hold at least 30 seconds.
Repetitions will vary–as few as 3 or as many as 20. Perform these exercises or some variation every week. The important thing is that you use this information to adjust your exercise routine to include specific, deep, spinal strengthening. Spinal strengthening will decrease pain and improve movement patterns which will likely result in heavier lifts (if that’s your goal) and more effective exercise.