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How to Strengthen Upper Back after Lumbar Fusion?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:31 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am 9 months post ALIF/PLIF at L4/5 and feel like my upper back and trunk muscles are not as strong as they should be. By evening they are really tired. For those of you who have had lumbar fusion, what exercises have you done to strengthen upper back/trunk muscles?



  • Five months after my lumbar fusion I began PT. We were working mostly on core muscle exercises, while keeping the lumbar area straight. I also did some isometrics.

    Now that I am over the 1-year anniversary, I am back to my regular muscle toning class, I just try to avoid stress on the lumbar area or twisting my body. I always work with weights either lying down or standing with straight back, and I use lighter weights than I used to.

  • I really appreciate your response! In PT I did a little with "weights" in the pool but was not given specific home exercises for upper body. I guess I could just start with light weights and do the same stuff on land.

  • If you don't mind taking some time to do some digging, there is really helpful information on the following website:


    She has a slightly different take on many of the exercises most of us have been told are "good" for our spines after surgery. She has several books out, too, but you can find all the same information on this site...but you do have to do some digging and follow lots of the links to find exercises, etc.

    A couple good exercises that will strengthen overall are the cat stretch (where you are on all 4s and arch the back) and then the one where you are on all 4s with your back and head straight like a table top. If you are weak, start by extending one leg behind you, and then the other, one at a time, obviously! The trick is to always keep your hips square and do not let one "open up" as you extend the leg. Do not lift the leg any higher than the level of your back, if you can even get it that high. Then do the same with the arms. Work to being able to extend one leg and the opposite arm at the same time. Again, the important thing is to keep the stomach tight and keep the back and neck all in one line without allowing the back to "sway" or for the hips to open up.

    Any exercises that work on opening up the chest are good, too. What we do not want to do is to allow the shoulders to round forward. This automatically draws the chin (and thus the head) forward, which in turn, causes the back to round forward. We spineys must work to always carry the back so that it looks like there is a cable clipped to the front of our bras pulling us forward, opening the chest, forcing our shoulders back and our chins back. Does that image make sense to you? I hope so.

    Gotta run. I have an appointment with my acupuncturist/rearranger soon.
  • I've been "lurking" around this site for a few weeks and found it's time to get involved.
    My Neurosurgeon, pain management Doc, therapy Doc, all said the best excercise is to get in a pool and swim, slosh around, and join an aquatic aerobics class.
    I go in the pool at therapy 3 times a week as well as land excercises. I find it interesting that I started P.T. right from the get-go after release from the hospital and sent to an in-patient therapy facility.
  • Thank you for the suggestions! One of the great things about this site is getting so much good information from knowledgeable members.

    Justlabs - I "lurked" for weeks, too, before ever posting anything. Glad you decided to join us. As you have probably noticed there is a great deal of knowledge, experience and wisdom here. Welcome!
    I agree that the pool is wonderful. I did PT in a warm water therapy pool for several weeks and loved it. But now, I need things I can do daily at home. However, when the weather warms up a bit more I know I will head for the outdoor pool! I have seen several members mention going to an in-patient rehab facility after surgery. Getting PT that early must be very helpful!

    Gwennie - Again, I am so impressed with how much you know. I will follow the link you provided right away. Really must do something. Because I was having some other pain issues that I was trying not to aggravate I have fallen way behind in my strengthening and stretching program. But - time to get with it again!

    Many thanks,
  • In 2007 I had a fusion of the L4 L5. I have had a good recovery and all of my back pain is gone. For the last 10 years, before and after the surgery, I have walked 2-3 miles everyday and my surgeon said that helped with my quick recovery. My problem now is the upper body. I need to loose some weight and strengthen the upper body and because of the fusion, I am not able to do a lot of the exercises that I use to do. No twisting or bending exercises. Any suggestions that might help or have worked for others?
  • Pilates works wonders. I did (and still do) a lot of the exercises for my core, but lately we have been doing a lot more work on my upper back and shoulders (I had a rotator cuff surgery in July of this year). It's amazing that some really super-small moves can really help in strengthening those muscles. Find a pilates center or a physical therapist who uses pilates near you.

    3 level spinal fusion, L3/4, L4/5, L5/S1, November 2008. Stiff, but I can walk.
  • I had my double lower lumbar fusion in July, and just started physical therapy a month ago. Right now I'm doing basic exercises like holding my tummy in for so many seconds and releasing it. This helps to strengthen the tummy, and other muscles. I also do "butte" squeezes to help with the inner thighs and back. Next I lay on my side and with a pillow between my legs and my legs bent, I lift the leg up and down, but keep my shoes together. Another is to have a medium size ball and sit up straight in a chair, and with the rubber ball in between the inner knees, just squeeze your knees together several times. It's important during any exercise that you watch your breathing and don't hold your breath. Another one is sitting up straight in a chair, both feet flat, begin to march picking up one foot after the other (like you're marching in a parade). Don't forget to get your Doctors approval for any exercise program before you begin.
  • Thanks Mindy, I'll give some of the exercises you are doing a try.

  • I do a simple Tai Chi workout at home from DVDs. If you're interested, I can PM you the name of my favourite ones. After my lumbar fusion, I was getting a lot of muscle spasms in the thoracic area and Tai Chi helped strengthen and relax the area. It's so good for the spine and core muscles. There are some exercises which I have to modify such as bending over. I just don't do it and substitute another exercise.

    So my main exercises are walking, Tai Chi and recently I've added a few exercises using light hand weights.


    XLIF L2-4 20.8.15
    ALIF L4/5 2009
    Laminectomy/discectomy L4/5 2008
  • Thanks, I would appreciate any exercise info that might help. With the different exercise suggestions I can set up what works for me.

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