Approximately 80 percent of adults will experience back pain during their life (yikes!). Unfortunately, when the pain is aggravated by excess motion and can't be resolved with non-surgical methods, spinal fusion may be necessary.
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Although a spinal fusion sounds like it may be the end of your active days, you can still lead an active lifestyle when you exercise and strengthen your whole body, particularly your abdominals.
The key is to make sure you are performing exercises that will not do more harm than good and to do them with proper execution.
Read more: Exercises After Low Back Surgery
Understand Spinal Fusion
The purpose of a spinal fusion is to limit the motion between the segments of your spine that are moving too much. After surgery, you may have issues with movement through the spine — as well as with many well-known ab exercises.
The problem is that the spine will more easily move above and below the fusion, which can result in pain and/or injury in those segments.
With that in mind, the best ab exercises for those with a fused spine are stabilizing exercises. These moves challenge the musculature to prevent motion throughout the spine, rather than produce it.
Unfortunately for some, this eliminates traditional favorites such as the crunch, Russian twist and side bends. But there are plenty of other exercises to replace these old standbys.
Ab Exercises After Spinal Fusion
Reinforcing a solid, stable position from a neutral alignment should be the overall goal when performing ab exercises after spinal fusion.
A good start is to replace spinal flexion and extension exercises such as crunches and "supermans" with anti-extension and anti-flexion exercises like plank variations.
Also, replace twisting and bending exercises like Russian twists and bicycle crunches with exercises like anti-rotation band presses and cable chops or lifts. Working the abdominals from a stable posture with the goal of preventing movement is key.
The following exercises are conducive abdominal training exercises for a spinal fusion, but only when they are performed correctly and safely.
This is not a program that is meant to rehab anyone from a spinal fusion procedure. Always make sure to get the OK from your doctor before beginning any exercise program after spinal surgery.
Once you are cleared by your doctor to begin more involved physical activity, these exercises will help to strengthen the abdominal muscles to support a resilient and high-performing midsection. But don't be afraid to seek out help from a physical therapist.
1. Anti-Extension Exercises
Move 1: Forearm Plank
HOW TO DO IT: From your forearms, keep your feet together and toes on the ground. Engage your core by imagining pulling an invisible zipper up toward your ribcage. Keep this position solid as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.
You should be "long and strong" from your heels to the tip of your head. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds depending on your current fitness status. Repeat for two to three sets.
Move 2: Glute Bridge
Although this is an exercise that is primarily used to activate the glutes, it also reinforces a good pelvic position via the abdominal muscles. As you bridge, the low back will arch if the abdominals are not engaged — it's the goal to prevent this from happening.
HOW TO DO IT: Start from a supine position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Achieve a slight backward tilt of the hips by using your abs.
Keeping the hip in a good position, drive through your heels and use your glutes to bridge your hips off the ground. Hold this position for two seconds before lowering back to the ground. Repeat for two to three sets of eight to 10 reps.
2. Anti-Rotation Exercises
Move 1: Anti-Rotation Press
HOW TO DO IT: From an athletic standing position — your abs engaged, hips slightly back and knees soft — set a cable or band so that it is at low chest height and you are standing sideways to the cable or band.
Bring the handle of the cable/band to the center of your chest. Without the body rotating or the low back arching, press the handle away from your chest and hold it at the end range for a second or two.
Bring the handle back to the starting position and repeat for eight to 10 reps. Perform two to three sets facing each direction keeping in mind you should feel the exercise working in the abdominals as you prevent your body from deviating from the starting position.
Move 2: Standing Cable Chop
HOW TO DO IT: Using a cable set at a high position and the rope attachment in the long setting, grab the rope. With the cable perpendicular to your body, get into a half squat position.
Engage your abs and pull the rope across your body at a downward 45-degree angle so the hands finish on the side of your down knee close to your pocket. The entire time focus on preventing the body from rotating or the low back from arching. Repeat for two to three sets of eight to 10 reps facing each direction.
Incorporate these exercises into your training program to strengthen the abdominal muscles while keeping the spine and hips in a good position.