The Do's & Don'ts of Exercise for People with Spinal Deformities

Elderly woman stretching in a park settingWe hear it every day: Exercise is beneficial for strengthening our core muscles and spines. And for the most part, that's true. I recently received a question from a Twitter follower asking about the best exercises for spondylosis sufferers, and it got me thinking about the advice I would give anyone who has been diagnosed with a spinal deformity. It isn't quite the same advice that I would give someone with a healthier spine. Whether you're battling spondylosis, kyphosis, scoliosis, or another type of spinal condition, I hope you'll find these tipse useful for incorporating the right type and duration of exercise into your daily life.

Do Exercise: A misconception I hear often from patients who suffer from spinal conditions and chronic back pain is that avoiding exercise or movement may somehow help alleviate the pain. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth. Continuous movement, including walking, can do a world of good for people with spinal conditions and back pain. Rest when you must during periods of severe, acute pain, but otherwise move as often as you can.

Don't Overdo It: While exercise is important for back pain relief and those who suffer from spinal deformities, knowing when to stop is critical. For most with severe deformity, trying to exercise our way back to a straight spine is impossible. In fact, overdoing any one type of exercise for too many repetitions or too long a duration of time may result in further damage and pain. Keep exercise to an appropriate level where you feel better afterwards, not worse.

Do Think Outside the Box: Many believe that the heavy, clunky machines at the gym are the only options for exercise. They aren't. And for those with spinal deformity, they're also not the most recommended. Remember that quality, focused stretching is great exercise and you don't need equipment to do it. If you haven't already, try yoga, Pilates and other stretchin moves, some of which are designed specifically for building and stabilizing the core, an important area of focus for anyone with spinal problems. You can find great resources and tutorials for some of these types of exercise right here on SpineUniverse.  For example, there's a slideshow showing 5 yoga poses that can help with back pain.

Don't Go High Impact: Especially if you're new to an exercise routine, stick with lower impact activities if you've been diagnosed with a spinal deformity. Running and high-impact aerobics can be fine for many with spinal conditions, but they can also put undue amounts of stress on a spine that already has some challenges. Most people can still derive major exercise and health benefits from lower impact activities like swimming, than the higher-impact exercises that can potentially put our spines at further risk. So rather than using heavy weights and "grunting through it," lighter weights with more repetitions may actually be safer and achieve a better result. When it comes to exercise, sometimes less really is more.

Do Cool Down Properly: Now this is advice I'd give anyone who exercises regularly, because most people don't take the time to do it. No matter the method of exercise performed, a proper cool-down, even if it's just for five minutes, is a must. "Cooling down" can include stretching muscles fatigued during exercise or breathing deeply for a few minutes while you allow your heart rate to return to normal.

Don't Forget to Hydrate: The bony structures of our spines aren't the only things that hold them in place and keep them stable. The muscles surrounding and benefitting them have an important job in how well our spines function, too. Those muscles, especially after they've had a healthy dose of exercise, need care, too. And the best you can give them is hydration. Ideally, it's best to drink plenty of water throughout an exercise routine. But, if you've found that you finished your workout and haven't had anything to drink, take the time to focus on drinking at least eight ounces of water immediately, then plenty more throughout the day.

While spinal deformity should not be a deterrent for most people to begin a solid exercise plan, knowing what to do and how to do it are important for limiting injury and deriving the most benefit. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program to make sure you're both on the same page. Then, get to work. In no time at all, you'll likely begin to realize the benefit to your spine and to your overall health.