4 Essential Activities for a Stronger Spine

Because back pain shouldn’t be an acceptable feature of everyday living.

Most people don’t think about bringing their spine in line until they’re battling chronic back pain. Let’s face it, exercising for spine health isn’t sexy let alone necessarily fun – that is of course until you’re faced with the genuine truth that constant pain is one of the least sexy lifestyle factors imaginable. Especially if you’re having trouble with lower back pain, or you’ve already been there, done that, and want to avoid a sequel, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help. Some of the most significant causes of spinal discomfort and pain, especially in the lower back, are poor posture and weak abdominal muscles. If you’re ready to feel better and banish your back pain, there are four things you can focus on TODAY that can help. Performed consistently over time, these activities can reduce back pain episodes and help prevent them from recurring.

Practice Proper Posture

During these past 18+ months of many people staying at and working from home, we’re spending a lot of time hunched over. A consistent hunching of the back causes the muscles near the upper part of the spine to become overly developed compared to your lower back muscles and abdominal muscles. This imbalance can lead to extremely poor posture and back pain. Now that you’ve read this keep it in mind any time you’re in a seated position and concentrate on sitting up straight and pulling the shoulders back to help the spine achieve a more neutral position.

If you’re used to hunching your shoulders while walking or standing with poor posture, attempting to correct it will likely feel strange at first. But stick with it. When you consciously pull your shoulders back and down when you walk, sit, and stand, you’ll encourage your back into a more upright position. Over time and with consistent focus, aligning your spine with good posture will eventually become second nature to you. Good posture tends to be synonymous with decreased back pain episodes.

Eventually, standing and sitting with excellent posture will feel good and more natural with time. If those health benefits aren’t enough to convince you, some research reveals that better posture also helps a person to appear slimmer.

Address Abdominal Muscles

Adding insult to injury of overdeveloped upper back muscles from poor posture, the low back muscles will work harder than they should to compensate and try to balance things out. If you also have additional body weight to contend with and weak muscles in your midsection, you’ve got the perfect recipe for a significant back pain disaster just waiting to strike at any moment. 

But there is good news. If you commit to incorporating abdominal exercises into an exercise routine each week, you’ll notice that as your abs get more toned  you’ll also likely feel less back pain. 

Planks and certain types of abdominal crunches are exercises you can do each day to tighten the muscles that protect the spine from injury and pain.

Planks – During these types of exercises, you will begin by lying face down on the floor. Once positioned, you will then place your feet about shoulder-width apart and get up onto your toes, with your upper body supported on either your elbows or your hands – as if you are setting up to do a pushup. However, instead of doing pushups, you’ll hold the pushup position for 20-30 seconds to start. When time’s up, you can rest for a few seconds. Repeat this three times every morning or evening. To get even better results, do it twice per day. As you get more comfortable performing planks, you can challenge yourself by increasing your time holding the plank position.

Abdominal Crunches – Especially for people with back pain and spine conditions, the types of crunches, or sit-ups, we learned as kids can be harmful to the back. Try laying down flat on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle to perform these actions more safely. Focus on bringing your spine in line with the floor (try not to arch your back). Place each hand on the same side leg and concentrate on bringing your chest and head upwards toward the ceiling (not your knees) while skimming your hands up your legs. To start, you can try five sets of 10 of these exercises to start and work up from there while ensuring you don’t sacrifice your form. Of course, if you can’t perform that many reps to start, DON’T push it! With any exercise, proper posture and form are essential. Straining or pushing through any activity may only result in more pain, which is what you’re trying to avoid when striving for pain-relief gains.

As with any exercise recommendations, always make sure you clear them with your regular health care provider first. Once you have that green light, make sure you stay consistent with the activities. You may not realize the benefits overnight, but they will likely manifest over time – resulting in a stronger spine with far fewer bouts of back pain to battle. Now that sounds like a perfect recipe for success!




Neel Anand MD