Your spine is one of the most critical parts of your body, passing signals from your brain throughout the rest of your nervous system. Unfortunately, it’s also very delicate. Any damage to the spine or the surrounding muscles, bones or ligaments can result in pain. As many as 65 million people in the United States alone have reported a recent episode of back pain and 16 million people live with chronic back pain. Treating back pain needs to be a holistic process, including exercises to strengthen your back muscles. Here are some of our favorite exercises for a healthy spine.

The curl-up

To perform a curl-up, start by lying on your back. Keep one leg extended, and draw the other one up until your foot is flat on the floor. Put your hands under your back. You want to maintain the natural arch of your spine while doing this exercise.

As you exhale, lift your head, shoulders and chest off of the floor. Pretend they’re one solid unit, and don’t let your lower back curve. Don’t tuck your chin or tilt your head back either.

Maintain this position for ten or so seconds, then gently lower yourself back onto the floor. Do as many repetitions as you’d like—five is an excellent place to start—then switch your leg positions and repeat the process.

See example.

The side plank

There are several variations to choose from when performing a side plank, depending on your strength and endurance. 

To begin, lie down on your side. Prop your upper body up with your arm, forearm on the floor and elbow directly beneath your shoulder. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle or keep your legs straight, whatever is more comfortable. Lift your hips off the floor so that they’re in line with the rest of your body.

You can either hold this position for a more extended period or hold it for a shorter period and do repetitions. Make sure you switch sides to maintain muscle balance.

See example.

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The bird-dog

The name of this exercise comes from hunting dogs that “point” to indicate the presence of a bird.

To begin with, get down onto your hands and knees. If this bothers your knees, you can use a towel or rug for padding. Next, raise your left arm straight out ahead of you. Simultaneously raise your right leg straight out behind you.

Hold this position for roughly seconds or whatever is comfortable, then lower your limbs. We recommend starting with five reps on each side, or ten total. However, you can do more or less to match your fitness and comfort level.

See example.

Knee to chest stretch

For this stretch, start by lying on your back. Your legs should be straight, and your heels should be on the floor.

Bend the knee of your choice, and bring it up to your chest. We recommend holding behind your knee to help. Hold this position for the desired length of time, then switch sides.

You can perform repetitions or do extended holds. We encourage you to do what’s comfortable. If something hurts or is unpleasant, you’re less likely to incorporate it into your daily routine.

See example.

Back flexion exercise

To start with, lay on your back and bend your knees. From there, grab your knees and guide them toward your chest. It’s alright if they don’t touch. Curl your head and shoulders up until you feel your muscles stretching gently.

We like this exercise because it stretches both your neck and lower back, two areas where people often report discomfort.

See example.

Chin to chest stretch

This exercise can be done at your desk or on the couch, and it is beneficial for anyone who spends a lot of time staring at a computer to help alleviate neck strain.

To begin with, sit up straight. Slowly, lower your chin toward your chest. It’s okay if you can’t quite touch it. The important part is that you feel your neck gently stretching. As you continue to do this exercise over time, your flexibility will improve.

See example.

Ear to shoulder stretch

Here’s another exercise you can do while sitting. We like the ear-to-shoulder stretch because it helps loosen the muscles in your neck.

To do it, sit up straight and relax your shoulders. Slowly, tilt your head to the side. You’re not going to be able to touch your ear to your shoulder, and don’t attempt to bend further than is comfortable. You should feel a gentle stretch, and that’s it. Alternate from one side to the other as needed.

See example.

Back doctors in Cary

Completing these exercises for a healthy spine can help strengthen and stretch the muscles around your spine, better protecting your back from pain and stiffness. Be sure to talk to your doctor before performing any exercises, and don’t continue if you feel shortness of breath or pain.

Cary Orthopaedics Spine Center is the area’s only comprehensive spine practice. Our doctors, surgeons and physical therapists all work together on a personalized treatment plan to ease your back pain. For more information, contact us today.