Best Bet Exercises for Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Lisa Konstantellis, MSPT
Joint Mobility Center, Hospital for Special Surgery


When you have osteoarthritis (OA) of the lower spine, it is important to stretch and strengthen the surrounding muscles to provide more support and reduce stresses around your back.  The following Best Bet Exercises will help you get started on your path to feeling stronger, more flexible and more active.  Remember:  Exercise should not be painful – if you experience pain, discontinue and consult with your physician.

Abdominal Strengthening

This exercise develops the body’s ability to contract and control its abdominal muscles, leading to increased support of the spine.

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click to enlarge

Lie on your back keeping the spine and pelvis in neutral and bend your knees. Tighten your lower abdominal muscles by pulling in your belly button towards the spine without holding your breath. Breathe evenly while maintaining the abdominal contraction, holding for 10 seconds. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions, 1 time daily.

Knee to Chest

This exercise will help to improve the flexibility of your lower spine and hips, aiding in your overall mobility while you perform your daily activities.

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click to enlarge

Lie on you back with both knees bent. Slowly bring one knee to your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower spine and hip. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower. Perform 10 repetitions on each side, 1 time daily.

Hamstring Stretch

When you have OA of the spine, the hamstring muscles (the muscles that run along the back of your thigh) tend to get tight. This exercise helps to stretch the hamstring muscles, helping you feel more flexible.

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click to enlarge

Lie on your back with the leg to be stretched straight with a strap around the bottom of your foot. Using the strap for support, elevate your leg until you feel a gentle stretch at the back of you knee and thigh. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Slowly lower. Perform 3 repetitions on each side, 1 time daily.

Clamshell Exercise

This exercise strengthens the muscles on your outer hips and lower abdominals, aiding in overall stability of your lower spine and legs.

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click to enlarge

Lie on your side with both knees bent. Tighten your lower abdominal muscles by pulling in your belly button towards the spine without holding your breath. Keeping your feet together, slowly lift your top knee up as if your legs are opening like a clamshell. Do not roll backward. Slowly lower your knee. Perform 10 repetitions on each side, 1 time daily.

Gluteus Strengthening

This exercise will help you strengthen the gluteus muscles (the large muscles at the back of your hip), aiding in trunk control, leg stability and balance while you stand and walk.

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click to enlarge

Lie on your stomach with hips over a pillow to support your back. Keeping the leg to be exercised straight, squeeze your buttocks and lift the leg slightly off the bed. Slowly lower. Perform 10 repetitions on each side, 1 time daily.

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