Spinal Stabilization for Day to Day Living

Angie Netterville, PTA, CMT

The spine is a complex structure that provides the main support to the entire body. Therefore when the muscles that support the spine are strong, they provide stability thus promoting better mobility and balance and relieving tension. No matter what our level of physical function, spinal stability is important for all of us.

For spinal strength, you may think that ridiculous amounts of sit ups or lifting weights is necessary. But it can actually be quite simple to achieve and maintain spinal stability just by being mindful throughout your day. Here are some suggestions to help keep things simple.

-Pull your belly button in while walking. Whether you’re walking a mile outside or just ten feet inside your house, practice pulling your belly button toward your spine. This doesn’t have to be an all out contraction, but simply remind yourself to hold the stomach in while moving. As you become mindful in doing this throughout your day, it will become easier and help you gain strength in your abdominals.

-When using your arms, think of squeezing your shoulder blades back and down just a bit. You might try this when putting dishes into cabinets or while dusting or wiping other surfaces.  Again, this doesn’t need to be a forceful contraction, but simply a mindful practice to help with endurance and stability while using the arms.

Here are some simple spinal stabilization exercises that are easy to do almost anywhere and hopefully will be easy to fit into your day.

1) Glute Sets…To do this exercise, simply squeeze your seat muscles and hold for a few seconds. It’s best to start with low reps 5-10 and work up gradually as tolerated. This exercise can be done while lying on back, in standing, or even in sitting. Whatever position, try to maintain a neutral spine meaning that your spine is straight from tailbone to skull.

2) Alternating Knee Lifts in sitting…This exercise looks like a sitting march in place. To do this, sit with spine erect and pull belly button in toward spine. Keep holding tummy tight as you alternate lifting one leg, then the other as if you were marching in place. The goal here is to avoid rocking side to side as you lift and lower each leg, moving only the legs as you keep your upper body steady. Start with only a few reps to see how you tolerate and increase as able.

Alternating Knee Lifts

3) Shoulder Blade Squeezes…In sitting or standing with erect spine, bend arms and bring elbows back as you squeeze shoulder blades together, then release. It’s good to do a few reps of this here and there during your day if you feel any tension in upper back or neck muscles.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

4) Chin Tucks…This exercise is easiest when lying down on back, but can be done in sitting and standing as well. With erect spine, pull chin straight back and hold a few seconds. Your chin should not lift up or go down, but straight back as if trying to create a double chin. Keep it gentle and start with a low number of reps.

Chin Tuck

5) Wall push ups…Stand facing a wall about a foot or so away. Place hands on wall just wider than shoulders and about the height of the shoulders. Keep elbows in and spine straight as you lean into wall then push away. Do only 5-10 reps to start and gradually increase if tolerated. This exercise is easier than a floor push up because the resistance of gravity has been eliminated.

These are general beginner exercises that many are able to do, but even simple exercises aren’t always right for everyone.  As  with any exercise, respect your limits and stop if it increases pain. You may need to see a Physical Therapist to create a specific program tailored to your individual needs.

Angie Netterville PTA, CMT has been practicing physical therapy since 1995 and has been with Hands On since 2009. In addition to her training in Myofascial Release, Angie has a background in Pilates, athletic performance training and Kundalini yoga and meditation.