The goal of back strengthening exercise is to condition the muscles to better support the spine and withstand stress, which can lead to back and neck pain relief.
Most back strengthening exercises focus on the core muscles, including the abdominal, gluteus, and hip muscles, in addition to muscles surrounding the spine. All of the core muscles are essential in supporting and minimizing strain on the spine.
However, unlike muscles in the arms and legs, core muscles do not get much use during typical daily activities. To build strength in core abdominal and back muscles requires exercises that focus specifically in these muscle groups.
Back-strengthening exercises can result in:
- Reduced stress on the spinal discs and joints
- Better spinal alignment and overall posture
- Ease with movements that may cause pain, such as bending, twisting, or lifting
In most cases, strengthening exercises are recommended 2 or 3 times a week, and as part of an overall program of stretching and aerobic exercise.
Physical Therapy Programs
Two of the most commonly used back strengthening programs are the McKenzie Method and dynamic stabilization, both of which are typically learned by working with a physical therapist. The kind of program prescribed typically depends on the patient’s condition and needs, as well as the doctor’s preference and familiarity with an exercise program.
When appropriate, exercises from both the McKenzie Method and dynamic stabilization may be combined.
Strengthening through the McKenzie Method
McKenzie Method exercises are designed to alleviate back pain caused by conditions affecting a spinal disc, such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc. These exercises are usually less effective for pain caused by osteoarthritis in the facet joints and/or spinal stenosis.
One of the primary goals of the McKenzie Method is “centralizing” pain, through:
- Strengthening muscles around the spine, so pressure is removed from the facet joints and spinal discs
- Removing pressure on a nerve root, which reduces radicular pain (sciatica)
Dynamic Stabilization Exercises
The goal of dynamic stabilization exercises is to find and maintain the neutral spine—a natural posture that accommodates the spine’s curvature and minimizes stress. Maintaining the neutral spine in a healthy posture is achieved through muscle conditioning and a learned awareness of joint positions (called proprioception).
Dynamic stabilization includes a range of exercises that can accommodate nearly anyone. For more severe pain, it is usually recommended to start with an exercise such as leg raises that gently and gradually strengthen the low back and core muscles. More rigorous exercises may include pelvic tilts or exercises using an exercise ball.
Common Forms of Strengthening Exercise
Many options are available that can effectively strengthen the spine and provide relief, and finding one that works and can be maintained is often driven by personal preference, local instructors available, and a process of trial and error in finding pain relief.
Common forms of strengthening exercise can include:
These strengthening exercises and others may be learned with help from a physical therapist, chiropractor, physiatrist, athletic trainers and more. It is important to work with a well-qualified professional, as learning the correct form for exercise is essential for building strength and stability without pain or injury.
Consulting with a doctor or other qualified health professional is recommended before adding to an exercise routine, to ensure any new exercise won’t compromise healthy or healing spinal structures.