7 Tips for Successful Spine Rehab

Learn Back Safe Positioning

Prone position
Prone position. drkskmn

Whether you're recuperating from a spine injury that happened 4 days ago or 4 years ago, taking an active role in your healing is paramount to long term pain relief.  Here is the first of 7 tips for being proactive about your back healing.  (If you're seeing a physical therapist for your injury, he will likely help you with some or all of these, as well.)

Position Yourself Safely

Learn the safest positions for your spine during sitting, standing, walking and daily activities.   For nearly everyone, the most common movements take place in supine (lying on your back), prone (lying on your stomach), side-lying, sitting and standing.  

The idea here is to develop awareness on how to assume these positions safely, especially soon after rehab starts. One way to do this is to take a moment or two to sense what it feels like to be in that position, all the while maintaining good form.  (Your physical therapist will likely teach you the proper form for basic positions.) 

Here are a few cheat sheets to get you started with positioning:

Practice Your Transitional Moves

Learning a few basic ADL moves may help you avoid a back reinjury.
Learning a few basic ADL moves may help you avoid a back reinjury.

After gaining confidence stabilizing yourself in basic positions, it's time to work on transitioning from position to position.  Regular practice of transitions is an important part of a spine rehab program, particularly in terms of regaining lost physical functionality.   

Mastering transitions may help you return to your regular routine quickly.  In other words, whether you like it or not, you'll likely resume your daily responsibilities - housework, etc. -  faster if you work on your transition moves every day!

Examples of transition movements include rolling from your back to your side or your side to your stomach, etc., as well as going from sitting to standing or standing to sitting.

As it is important to move safely - i.e., without re-injuring yourself or causing pain, practice is paramount.   

Click the link below for a short guide to get you started on transition practice.  Work only in a pain free range, and pay attention to the position of your spine as well as the way in which your muscles feel.

Related:  Rolling and other Transitions


Stretching and Mobilizing for Spine Rehab

Does chiropractic make for a good scoliosis treatment?
Does chiropractic make for a good scoliosis treatment?. Deeblue


Stretching tight tissues can help increase your range of motion, and range of motion is generally regarded as an excellent way to prevent re-injury - and injury -  as well as to reduce pain in some circumstances.  

But along with these well touted benefits,  did you know that the extra flexibility you may get from stretching can also help you stabilize your spine?  Stretching frees up muscle fibers and makes them available for stabilization activities.  (In the next slide, you'll learn about spinal stabilization exercises.)

Stretching also helps move fluids that may have slowed down or begun to stagnate because of reduced activity during the period of infirmary.  And when you use sustained stretching techniques (i.e., stay in the position for about 30 seconds) and work at a level of intensity that feels like a "good hurt," stretching can feel pretty good!

As with any injury, the key is to not overdo things.  At first, restrict your stretching to pain relieving positions only.  As you progress in your healing, slowly and gently introduce stretching into painful areas to increase joint range of motion.


Another way to increase joint range of motion is with mobilization.  Mobilization is a treatment often given by licensed physical therapists and massage therapists.  Mobilizing should be a gentle experience, which can increase in force (force is generally related to how much movement at the joints is incurred) as time from the initial injury passes.  That said, a chiropractic adjustment, which is technically a Grade V mobilization, is too forceful and does not fall into the category of using mobilization to relax tight tissues related to an injury.

Stabilize Your Core

Lisa Gagne/E+/Getty Images.

Spinal stabilization is key for healing an injury and recovering lost functioning.  

During the first phases of injury rehab the idea is to activate abdominals and other core muscles, and to begin to stabilize your spine while in comfortable, pain relieving positions.  

As you progress,  you increase the challenge to your core stabilizer muscles by adding movement.  With these more intermediate level rehab exercises, your responsibility is to actively control your spine during the movement. An example is the yoga cat-cow stretch.

The most advanced type of core work is called dynamic stabilization.   Dynamic stabilization exercises charge you with keeping your spine aligned while engaging in complex movements that involve leg and arm actions, varying positions, coordination challenges and more.


Kinser, C., Colby, L.A., Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. 4th Edition. F.A. Davis Company. Philadelphia, PA. 2002.

Aerobic Exercise During Spine Rehab

Woman stretching arms overhead
Anouk de Maar/Cultura/Getty Images

Maintaining your aerobic fitness while recovering from a neck or back may help you with your overall health and sense of well being.  

At first, (up to 4 days post injury) this is generally limited to only as much as you can tolerate, and only in positions that relieve your pain.  As time progresses, (starting in about 4 days to a week after the initial injury and continuing for about 2 or 3 weeks)  consider low to moderate activity in a pain free zone only.  And after 3 weeks, at the chronic stage, experts recommend exercising at your target hear rate several times per week.

Stress Management for Back Injuries

Drawing in maneuver can help get your abs to support your back.
Drawing in maneuver can help get your abs to support your back.

Exercises designed to relieve stress can help prevent unwanted muscle tension that may get in the way of fully recovering your functionality.  Stress management exercises may also have a positive effect on your pain levels that are due to positioning and posture habits.  

Stress management exercise includes breathing exercises, for example diaphragmatic breathing,  gentle joint motions and the like.  

For tips on making a stress management plan for yourself, see Elizabeth Scott's About.com Stress Management site.

Spine Rehab - The Next Level

Lumbar curve - how much should you have?
Lumbar curve - how much should you have?. katrinaelena

The tips and techniques provided on the previous slides are meant to help you get back in action after a neck or low back injury.  Once you've achieved that, don't stop!  

In fact, why not strike the attitude that your injury - along with the things you've learned about core strength, pain free positioning, flexibility, stress management and daily movement - can guide you into the future - into long term back maintenance and better physical fitness?

With that in mind, you might consider advancing the complexity and/or challenge levels of your exercises as the current ones become too easy.  It's a good idea to seek guidance from your physical therapist on this before you are discharged, as well.

And, you can make new goals for the next level of fitness.  Think of it - now that you're doing better, you may be able to tackle projects you've procrastinated due to pain and/or weakness, or travel more.  Or maybe there's a sport or workout method you've wanted to try for a while. These bucket list items may now be visible on the horizon, and as such can serve as motivation for achieving the next level of physical fitness and healthy back maintenance.

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