If you’ve ever had a herniated disc or chronic back pain, then you know that it can be exasperating. Herniated discs can affect people aged 25-55 and are twice as common in men than in women. The concern is what causes a herniated disc and which are the best exercises for a herniated disc?
What is a Herniated Disc?
In the spine are bones or vertebrae which are separated by a rubbery cushioning-like substance called a disc. It’s gel-like in its consistency and is surrounded by a tough exterior. When a disc herniates in the spine, the gel-like area starts to protrude or push through the tough exterior.
As there are several sensitive nerves that surround the spine, this can often cause numbness in the ligaments like the hands or the feet depending on the location of the herniation. It can also cause severe pain and spasms leaving the person in a stiff position or bent over. They cannot move, rotate or even complete their daily activities without extreme pain and discomfort.
Herniated Disc Exercises and Stretches
To help alleviate the symptoms from a herniated disc or pinched nerve, speak to your doctor about the best treatment plan and herniated disc exercises for your particular situation. Only do exercises and stretches if your doctor advises that you can as you don’t want to exacerbate the condition. It’s also best to consult a physician first to rule out kidney stones or pulled muscles.
Exercises that include gentle stretching are helpful for relieving back pain and helping to stabilize a herniated disc.
The pros of doing exercises and stretching include that with certain exercises, you can start to feel relief and symptoms can improve. However, don’t overdo it or try to push through the pain.
The cons of not consulting a doctor or exercising too much include that you can worsen the pain or herniation. Hence, the best exercises to do will depend on where the herniation is located and your doctor’s recommendation.
Yoga Stretches and Exercises
Because a record 65 million people experience back pain and 16 million say it’s recurrent, yoga techniques can also offer relief.
Try the following yoga stretches and exercises (and click the links to see examples):
- Child’s pose: Not only is it relaxing, but this asana relieves tension as it releases the hips and spine.
- Cobra pose: Helping to bring your back into an extension, it stretches the joints and muscles.
- Sukhasana and side poses: These seated-position moves stretch the back and lateral torso muscles.
- Supine pigeon: As a hip opener, this stretch can reduce lower back pain and strain.
- Supine spinal twist: To help decompress your spine, this gentle stretch improves blood flow and opens core muscles.
Disc Herniation Exercises for the Lower Back
Disc herniation often occurs in the low back, which is your lumbar spine. It can come from turning the wrong way, lifting a heavy appliance or even slouching excessively where the disc starts to protrude from the pressure. Hence, nearly 95% of herniations are located in the lower back.
Before you start any exercise or stretching routine, it’s important that you stretch or warm up beforehand. Furthermore, do not push past the pain. Meaning, if you feel pain, stop.
A few exercises for lower back pain include:
- Bird Dog Exercise: This is another exercise technique that can give more stability to your lumbar/low back region.
- Knee Bends and Partial Crunches: These can help to strengthen your abdominal muscles and lumbar region/back.
- Pelvic Tilt Stretch: This is done lying down to support your back and stretch muscles in your hips.
- Press-Up Extensions for Your Back: If you lie on your stomach to do these, they can help give added support to your back.
- Pulling Your Knees to Your Chest: If you lie on your back and pull your knees to your chest, it stretches your back and stomach muscles.
- Sitting Against a Wall: The seated posture helps to build up the muscles in your legs, lower back and abdomen.
- Stretching Your Hamstrings: As a way to loosen tight muscles in your lower back area, the stretches gently strengthen your upper leg muscles.
- Swimming: It’s a non-weight-bearing exercise that supports your body and can stretch each muscle group.
Beginners should start with press-up back stretches, swimming and partial crunches. As you feel less pain and your spine is stronger, then progress to bird dog and wall sits.
Disc Herniation Exercises for the Upper Back and Neck
Historically, older people had herniated discs in the upper back and neck region. However, more young people are developing herniations in these areas from poor posture and slumping over on their mobile devices. Symptoms of herniations in these areas include tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers and severe pain or knots in the neck or upper back that limit mobility.
Similar to the exercises and stretches for the lower back region, when you do these exercises, stop if you feel pain and consult a physician about the right exercise and stretching regimen based on your condition.
A few exercises for the upper back and neck include:
- Chin Tuck Exercise: This can help strengthen the muscles in your neck.
- One Arm Pec Stretches: These can help to build up muscles in your chest area.
- Scapular Retraction: Stretching your arms to the side with a therapy band for resistance can strengthen your upper body.
- Shoulder Rolling Exercise: This can increase stability in the neck and build up surrounding muscle groups.
- Stretching the Neck: Do these gently especially when first starting as neck muscles are very sensitive.
- Upper Trapezius Stretches: These can reduce pain in the neck and make your neck muscles stronger.
Exercises to Avoid
If the pain is not in the neck but the upper back area, avoid leg raises, toe-touches, sit-ups, push-ups and biking. These put more strain and pressure on the upper back muscles. If pain is in the low back, avoid lifting heavy items or weights over your head as this can cause more pain and make the low back muscles unstable.
Gentle stretching and swimming can help to improve muscle strength around the herniated area. Speak with a doctor first before starting any exercise or stretching routine.
Yes and no. If the herniation is not severe, herniated disc physical exercise can include stretches that build up muscles near the herniation to improve symptoms. If the herniation is severe and mobility is limited, a doctor may recommend surgery, physical therapy or chiropractic treatments first.
The best exercises for herniated disc (and fastest ways to heal) include rest, gentle stretching, swimming and exercises that build the supporting muscles.
If it’s a lower back herniation, avoid heavy lifting. For upper back herniations, avoid sit-ups, push-ups and leg lifts as these can exacerbate symptoms (pain, pressure, numbness, tingling in the extremities).
Consult a physician first about exercise for slip disc. They will do a physical examination and may take x-rays, an MRI or CT. They will then recommend a course of treatment that might include exercise, stretching, physical therapy or chiropractic treatments.
In severe cases with extreme mobility limits, surgery may be required. However, consult a chiropractor for a second opinion as several back-to-back spinal manipulations and ultrasound therapy treatments might offer relief.