Parkinson's Pole Series - Part IV: 5 Exercises for a Happy and Healthy Spine

Strength, Balance, and Endurance: It all starts with your Foundation

Welcome back to the Parkinson's Pole Series. Today we continue on with Part IV of the six-part series and it's all about building the foundation of health: Your Spine. 

Before we start, if you missed parts I, II, and III of this series, including why I love using poles for Parkinson's fitness and how to make your own for less than $15, you can go back and re-visit those posts here:

Click Here for Part I: How to build your own poles in 5 minutes for less than $15

Click Here for Part II: The Basics - 5 Exercises that Build the Foundation of Strength and Coordination

Click Here for Part III: Walking - 5 Drills to Incorporate on your Daily Walk to Improve Arm Swing and Decrease Shuffling


In today's post, we're focused on the health and happiness of our axial skeleton, also known as our spine.

(Warning: If you're not into the science-y stuff, feel free to scroll all the way down to get right to the videos!)

In order to appreciate how vital the health of your spine is to your day-to-day function, take a quick look at this image from my favorite anatomy textbook. (Stay with me, this is short!) We have 24 vertebrae bones stacked on top of each other from the base of our skull all the way down to our low back. Those vertebrae sit on top of the triangular bone, called the sacrum, and then our tailbone (or coccyx) sticks out underneath. 

When our spine is in optimal alignment, our vertebrae sit stacked on top of each other like a well-balanced Jenga tower. We're designed to have small curves in our neck, upper back, and low back to accommodate our every day movements, but the curves are proportional to one another and should balance each other out. 

Alignment: Your Secret Weapon

I often see clients struggle with trying to improve their endurance, balance, and gait because they're neglecting their foundation: Their spine. 

Without proper flexibility in your spine, rib cage, and hips, you're likely working with a spine that's in poor alignment. As you can see in the image below, when your spine isn't stacked as well as it should be - due to tightness of muscles, ligaments, and fascia or even bony abnormalities - your starting position is already biased to throw you off kilter! 

When you hone in on making your spine, rib cage, and hips more flexible, they're able to align more optimally and keep you from tipping over like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once you've achieved a more optimal posture, FROM THERE is when you want to focus on strengthening, balance work, anti-freezing, and gait. 

So, what goes wrong?

Every day, starting from the time we're old enough to "sit still", we've been putting ourselves in poor postures and then reinforcing them - sitting too long, driving, working at the computer, eating, and even curled up sleeping. In addition, genetics may play a part for some of us - a mild scoliotic curve turns into a significant one due to weakness.

Irregular spinal curvatures are especially common in Parkinson's when someone doesn't exercise regularly and it's compounded by rigidity, tremors, and other muscle imbalances. 

However, there IS some GOOD news!

Our bodies are incredibly resilient given the right tools. Since we got ourselves to this place by reinforcing a poor postures and not exercising in the right way, we also have the ability to start reversing this process.

Now, it won't be easy, but with a dedicated and focused program, you too can optimize your spine health and make your alignment work for you, not against you. In the same way that Rome wasn't built in a day, neither was your alignment. This takes time.

The 5 exercises below are ones that are relatively simple to do and can be powerful tools to help you improve your hip, rib cage, and spinal flexibility. 

How to get the most out of these exercises:

  • "Start Low and Go Slow" - This means start with smaller ranges of motion and progress to larger ones once your body is warmed up. 
  • DO NOT push through pain! If you feel a stretch - good, continue on. Never should you ever feel sharp pain. 
  • Follow along and aim for 5-20 repetitions of each exercise. 
  • Keep breathing! Don't hold your breath. Exhale with the most intense part of the stretch to achieve more mobility.
  • You may feel a little lightheaded. These exercises push a lot of circulation from your midsection out to your extremities. Again, go slow and if you feel wobbly please sit down. 
  • Supervision is encouraged if you have less than optimal balance.

Finally, if you don't have a set of poles that's okay. You can use the back of a sturdy chair, a wall, or a counter top at a comfortable height. The more sturdy the surface is, the easier it will be to keep your balance.


Exercise #1: Front-to-Back Arm Swings

Aim for: 5-20 repetitions with each arm.


Exercise #2: Side-to-Side Arm Swings

Aim for: 5-20 repetitions on each arm.


Exercise #3: Torso Rotation

Aim for: 5-20 repetitions on each arm.


Exercise #4: Seated Rotational Reach

Aim for: 5-20 repetitions on each arm.


Exercise #5: The Row Boat

Aim for: 30-60 seconds continuously for 3-5 rounds. Rest 30-60 seconds between rounds. The larger the range of motion, the more challenging it becomes! 

To see the entire YouTube Playlist of Pole Exercises, follow this link: 

Invigorate PT and Wellness YouTube Pole Series Playlist


For even more exercises you can do from home, check out the rest of the Parkinson's Pole Series:

Click Here for Part I: How to build your own poles in 5 minutes for less than $15

Click Here for Part II: The Basics - 5 Exercises that Build the Foundation of Strength and Coordination

Click Here for Part III: Walking - 5 Drills to Incorporate on your Daily Walk to Improve Arm Swing and Decrease Shuffling

Click Here for Part V: Balance - 6 Drills to Regain Confidence with Balance and Coordination