4 Exercises For Herniated Discs (and 8 Exercises Not to Do)

exercises for herniated disc

The spinal column consists of stacked bones called vertebrae, cushioned by soft discs that allow our spine to move and bend. Each disc has a tough outer shell with a soft, gel-like center. A herniated disc happens when this outer casing weakens, causing the disc to bulge towards one side of the spinal canal. Below you will find exercises for herniated discs. 

Most adults have experienced at least one bout of back pain, and a disc problem is often to blame. The type of pain and discomfort that comes with a bulging disc differs for each person and will depend on:

  • The severity of your herniated disc
  • Where your herniated disc is located
  • Whether or not nearby nerves are being compressed
  • Your overall health and lifestyle
  • Your activity level

Some common symptoms of a bulging disc include:

  • Neck, shoulder, or arm pain
  • Pain that radiates down the leg
  • Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the affected limb

The Importance of Moving

Taking a break and adjusting your activity level is often best when dealing with a herniated disc. To promote healing and decrease inflammation, avoid activities that may cause more pain or stress to the spine.

Your doctor may suggest taking a short break from work or changing your daily routine to reduce stress on the affected area. However, staying in bed for a long time is not recommended as it could lead to muscle weakness, stiffness, range of motion loss, and more pain.

Gentle exercises that strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and initiate healing are effective for herniated discs. If you are going to exercise, remember the importance of warming up beforehand. Additionally, you should listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself if you experience significant pain. Pain and discomfort are your body signaling that you should stop.

4 Exercises For Those With A Bulging Disc

1. Stretching

Stretching exercises are highly beneficial for alleviating the symptoms of a herniated disc, making them one of the top treatment options. Engaging in gentle stretches that target the muscles in the back enhances flexibility, leading to improved stability in the area affected by the herniated disc. Moreover, herniated disc exercises can enhance overall endurance and circulation, improving symptoms.

Incorporating activities such as Pilates and yoga can be particularly advantageous when dealing with a herniated disc. These exercise modalities focus on core strength, flexibility, and body alignment, which are crucial for supporting the spine and promoting overall spinal health.

2. Decompression Breathing

Decompression breathing can help lift and expand the ribcage, which can decompress the spine. This technique involves specific breathing patterns that relieve pressure on affected discs, promote circulation, and aid healing.

3. McKenzie Exercises

McKenzie Exercises are a set of physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen nearby muscles and structures to prevent future injuries and correct misplaced intervertebral discs. McKenzie exercises are a series of progressive positions that help extend the spine and relieve pain. The group of exercises includes:

  • Prone lying
  • Prone lying while resting on elbows
  • Prone push-ups
  • Progressive extension
  • Standing extension

4. Low-impact aerobic activities

Low-impact aerobic activities like walking, using an elliptical machine, swimming, and bike riding can benefit bulging discs. Start slowly to ensure these movements do not cause any discomfort to your back.

Inappropriate Exercises for Those with a Bulging Disc

If you’re able to exercise, there are certain movements that should be avoided as they may make your condition worse. You should avoid any exercise that applies pressure on the affected joints and over-strains your abdominal muscles. Exercises to avoid include:

  • High-impact aerobics
  • Flexion-based movements
  • Leg lifts
  • Sit-ups
  • Twisting movements
  • High-level core strength exercises
  • Overhead weightlifting
  • Repetitive forward bending at the waist

Find the Best Treatment Plan for You

If you’re experiencing herniated disc symptoms, it’s important to take action to find effective treatments. Schedule an appointment with your doctor for an exercise treatment plan catering to your needs!


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