What Do I Do To Promote A Healthy Spine?

I often get asked what habits or exercises I perform to maintain a healthy spine. First and foremost, all spines age…..even doctors! Knowing that everyone’s spine will age and eventually cause discomfort is key in learning to accept low back pain and intervene when your back acts up. 

Full disclosure, I have approximately 90% collapse of my L5-S1 disc. Thankfully, I have no leg pain but if I sit too long or perform long surgeries; I get back soreness. The discomfort has caused me to alter my workout regimen and prepare myself ahead of time for long surgery days.

Degenerative disc pain is typically worse in a sitting vs standing position and aggravated with activities that require you to lean forward and lift or hold that flexed position (think of leaning under the hood of a car and doing engine work). In surgery, I stand by the side of the patient and lean forward…sometimes all day. Thankfully, my clinic days involve frequent changes of positions so I barely sit for any extended period of time. Acknowledging what activities cause me discomfort has caused me to alter my workout regimen.

#1 I avoid high axial loads to my lumbar spine.

Examples of exercises with high axial loads include squats, power cleans and deadlifts

By focusing more on body weight exercises and performing CORE exercises with every workout I am better able to maintain strength and endurance of my abdominals and low back extensors. Exercises such as low back extensions (Roman chair or ball), crunches, flutter kicks, straight leg raises, and Superman exercises are all great ways to keep your CORE strong and develop endurance to be able to tolerate a full day of activity.

#2 If I anticipate a long surgical day or 2 straight days of surgery; I take Ibuprofen prior to surgery.

Ibuprofen is a NSAID that helps decrease my soreness towards the end of a day. Normally I take one 800 mg Advil (Ibuprofen) in the morning with coffee. I have found that I am less sore during and after surgery.

Again, these are modifications to my routine based on my age, activities that increase soreness and my schedule. Everyone is different! What works for me may not work for someone else. However, neglecting your CORE is harmful; especially the older we get. All activities involve the CORE muscles to some degree. Performing your exercises for 10 mins 4-5 X a week is easy.

The value of Physical therapy to go over these exercises and find the right combination to work for you is important! Not everyone can perform a “Superman” or a “leg to chest raise”. Personalization of a home exercise program is one of the main benefits of therapy and increases the chances of compliance.

The single best piece of advice I tell my patients to keep back pain controlled is a consistent CORE program. 10 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week helps keep the doctor away!


Paul Saiz, MD

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