7 Best Exercises for Fractured Vertebrae | Broken Neck Therapy

You’ve been released from your cervical collar and are ready to rebuild your neck strength. Instead of wondering what to do next, try these exercises for fractured vertebrae and start your own DIY therapy program.

pin to a post about exercises to help someone recovering from a broken neck

Once the doctor told me I was ready to take off my neck brace, I figured my next step would be physical therapy. But, when I asked him about it, he said he didn’t usually prescribe physical therapy for folks in my situation.

I was really confused. My neck had just been immobilized for three months. I knew the muscles would be weak.

“Well, what if I have neck pain?” I asked.

“Then, I’ll refer you to a pain specialist,” he answered.

I was shocked! No physical therapy? Really?

But, if he was so certain, I was ready to give it a try.

The Struggle Was Real!

I had no idea I would be in so much pain!

The doctor really made it seem like standard day-to-day life would build the strength in my neck. Was he ever wrong!

Immediately, I had significantly more pain than while wearing the neck brace. This makes sense because, after three months of inactivity, all of the muscles in the neck and spine need to restart and figure out how to work again.

exercises for fractured vertebrae
Me doing my best to look right. This is as far as it goes.

Still, because this doctor was so certain I wouldn’t need additional help, I gave it my best shot.

Since the style of Pilates that I practice is physical therapy-based, I did my best to perform my own therapy at home. Even when I was diligent in my self-practice, my neck was still in pain.

For a couple of months, I tried to perform self-therapy. With two months of pain and failure under my belt, I decided to look for some other options.

I tried acupuncture, and I had immediate pain relief. Since my acupuncturist is also my chiropractor, she was able to prescribe physical therapy for me.

I held onto that script like a Wonka Golden Ticket, knowing that I would use it as soon as the holidays were over.

Do you want to read more about my broken neck experience and recovery? Check out my book Snapped: A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery, which is for sale through Amazon. (This link is an affiliate link. I earn a small commission for any sales at no extra charge to you.)

Therapy at Last! (Whoop Whoop!)

I was so excited! Finally, after three months of feeling like I was going nowhere, I was going to get the help I needed.

I had never been to physical therapy, so I had no idea what we would do. However, I fully expected my physical therapist would help me guide me out of this new life of pain. Luckily for me, I was right.

These seven exercises for fractured vertebrae recovery got rid of my pain in one day and permanently improved my range of motion.

How did that happen?

One of the keys to pain relief is to figure out where your pain is coming from. Once you do that, you have a better chance of identifying the muscles that could be causing your pain.

Then, once you figure out which muscles are causing your pain, you can choose the best exercises to help stretch and strengthen those muscles.

And, if you’re recovering from a broken neck (like I am), this will lead you to the very best exercises for fractured vertebrae.

Figuring Out Where the Pain Comes From

I’m not sure if you’ve really thought about the impact of immobilization and the extent of the impact on your body. I thought that I had, but I didn’t truly understand until I went to physical therapy.

Naturally, the muscles in the neck and shoulders are significantly weakened. Then, I learned very quickly that the entire spine and core muscles are also greatly impacted. I hadn’t anticipated this, but the discovery seemed logical.

What I hadn’t realized was that the immobilizer made it so I had almost no movement at C6 and T1, and C7 literally had no movement at all.

C7 is such an important transition point for your spine. When it locks down, it greatly impacts the ability of other vertebrae up and down the chain to work correctly.

Because of this lock-down, my thoracic vertebrae were unable to help my cervical spine with rotation and other movement. This caused neck pain.

When I would look side to side, my head would stop at a point that caused me such intense pain that I couldn’t move any further. I had a different experience looking up and down and moving my ear to my shoulder.

With these exercises, my head moved as far as it could and then stopped. There was no pain with any of these exercises like there was when I looked side to side.

Let’s Get Rid of This Pain!

My top priority was to get rid of the pain. Often, this is accomplished by loosening tight muscles and encouraging correct movement patterns.

Although I was hopeful physical therapy would help, I knew there was a chance that it wouldn’t. With an injury like a fractured vertebra, there’s always a chance you’ll live your life with a certain level of pain once the break heals.

I was hoping this wouldn’t be my reality.

7 Best Exercises for Fractured Vertebrae

With caution and optimism, I met with my physical therapist. She gave me a short list of exercises for fractured vertebrae recovery.

Some of these exercises looked just like Pilates exercises I would do with my clients. And, although these exercises were familiar, they were not exercises I was already doing at home myself.

Here’s what the physical therapist had me do in my first physical therapy session.

1. Spinal rotation.

  1. Begin in a neutral side-lying position with your shoulder directly under you. Reach your arms straight in front of you. If you are correctly aligned, your fingertips should be even. Your knees should be bent to ninety-degree angles, so your knees are in line with your hips and your ankles.
  2. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Inhale and lift your top arm up toward the ceiling, moving only from the shoulder. Look at your hand as it raises.
  4. Exhale and rotate your spine by letting your rib cage open toward the ceiling. Keep looking at your hand as your spine rotates. Try to keep your knees close together.
  5. Hold here for a couple of breaths. As you breathe, tight muscles should relax and you might feel a pop or two in your spine.
  6. To come out, inhale and rotate your rib cage back to neutral. Your top arm should be sticking straight up toward the ceiling.
  7. Exhale and lower your top hand to meet the bottom hand. If you have come all the way back to neutral position, your fingertips will align.
  8. You can do as many of these as you want, but I normally just do 2 or 3. Also, feel free to hold and breathe for a longer time so that any tight muscles you might have can loosen up.
  9. Make sure to do both sides.

Are you more of a visual learner?

If you’re more of a visual learner, I’ve got you covered! Just scroll to the bottom of this post for an easy-to-follow video of all seven exercises.

2. Cat/Cow.

cat/cow is an excellent exercise for fractured vertebrae
  1. Use ujjayi breathing and inhale and exhale through your nose while you move.
  2. Begin on your hands and knees in Table pose with your hands under your shoulders and your hands under your hips. Take the time to ensure everything is in good alignment. You want to particularly make sure your pelvis is in neutral and you’re pushing the floor away from you through your hands and the tops of your feet.
  3. Lift your abdominals to your spine.
  4. Inhale here.
  5. Decide how you would like to round your spine for Cat pose.
  6. Exhale and round up. Feel how your spine is completely flexed and curved.
  7. Decide how you would like to lengthen your spine and which form of Cow pose you would like to do.
  8. Inhale to lengthen to a long spine then allow your heart to rotate forward as you move into your preferred version of Cow pose.
  9. Exhale to lengthen to a long spine then round up to Cat pose.
  10. Practice several rounds of this Cat/Cow combination.
  11. When you are finished, end with a long spine.

Related: There’s more than one approach to the Cat/Cow. Click here to learn more about how to do each exercise correctly.

3. Thread the needle.

  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your knees as wide as the mat, big toes touching.
  2. Start lowering your hips toward your heels.
  3. Reach your right arm under your left until your shoulder rests on the mat.
  4. Turn your head so your right cheek is also on the mat.
  5. Stretch your left arm out straight and raise up on fingertips.
  6. Hold and breathe.
  7. Then, switch sides.

4. Look right and left.

Look right and left with a soft ball (meaning a ball that is soft, not a misspelling of “softball”) behind your head about 10 times.

5. Tuck your chin.

Tuck your chin toward your chest and press the back of your head into a soft ball. Do this about 10 times.

6. Nod up and down.

head nods exercise for fractured vertebrae

Nod your head up and down with a soft ball behind your head about 10 times.

7. Lacrosse ball massage.

Put two lacrosse balls in a pillowcase or sock and use them to massage the occipital part (lower, back part) of your skull.

That was pretty much it for our first therapy session, but these exercises made a huge improvement in how I felt. I practiced my exercises at home over the weekend and, when I returned the following Monday, my pain level was at a 0. Furthermore, it had been at a 0 all weekend!

7 Best Exercises for Fractured Vertebrae Video

If you like to watch and do, follow along with this video that teaches all seven exercises.

Could This Fix Me?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever get my full range of motion back, but physical therapy makes me hopeful. If they can get rid of my persistent skull pain in one session, who knows what else we will accomplish in our time together?

Right now, it feels like the sky is the limit for what I can achieve.

Physical therapy was just one step in my quest to heal my broken neck. If you want to learn more about my broken neck recovery, check out my book, Snapped: A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery, which is for sale through Amazon. (This link is an affiliate link. I earn a small commission for any sales at no extra charge to you.)

Did you have to do physical therapy for your broken neck recovery? Were there any exercises for fractured vertebrae that helped you the most? Leave a comment!

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.