Five Safe Exercises for Herniated Disk Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by NJ Spine & Orthopedic on June 27, 2024

Herniated disk back pain can be relieved with a few gentle exercises that strengthen muscles, improve flexibility over time, and begins the healing process. Herniated discs affect young and middle-aged people and often affect the lumbar spine, which is the lower portion of the back.

A herniated disk is a common spinal condition resulting in the disk material that protects and cushions each disk of the spine from external pressure to be pushed out past the hard exterior or when the structures stop producing this material. It leads to dehydration and disk collapse. Specialists often recommend rehabilitation and prevention as opposed to surgery. Keep reading for the safest five exercises for relieving back pain associated with herniated disks.

A herniated disk occurs when there is a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (disks) between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack up to make your spine. Common herniated disc symptoms include pain, tightness, numbness, weakness, and tingling in the back, legs, and feet, which are crucial for diagnosing this condition. A physical therapist can play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation process by providing a tailored exercise program that focuses on strength, flexibility, and proper posture to alleviate symptoms and prevent further injury.

Symptoms That Are Associated with Herniated Disks

Generally, the first symptom of a herniated disk is lower back pain. Although it may go away after a short duration, usually other symptoms manifest such as numbness and tingling in the limbs, numbness and weakness in the lower body is also common. It may travel to your feet, knees or ankles.

Gentle exercise is the best way to combat pain, improve your day-to-day life, and increase muscle performance. In addition to the exercises below, walking and swimming are also excellent options to build up your activity level after experiencing herniated disk pain. In severe cases, herniated disks can affect bowel or bladder control, urging immediate medical consultation.

1. Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression is the best exercise to start with when you have back pain associated with a herniated disk. It creates much-needed space between your vertebrae and relieves the pressure that may be causing you discomfort.

The way to do this exercise is to find a place you can hang off of a bar. For instance, a door would work or a bar at the gym. The goal is to try to hang off the bar for 30 seconds at a time for three rounds. Release slowly and continue with other exercises.

2. Cobra Pose

This pose effectively relieves back pain associated with a herniated disk because it pushes the disk material back into its original position and allows it to begin the healing process. This pose especially helps if you’re experiencing symptoms in your lower body and can help contain it to just your lower back.

This pose can be done as a half stretch or a full stretch by laying on your stomach. Prop yourself up on your elbows for a half stretch and fix your hip bones to the floor. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds and go back to your starting position. Repeat this for ten rounds.

When you are comfortable with the half-stretch, try to prop yourself up with your hands in a full arm extension, and gently pull your torso upwards to achieve the full extension of the pose.

3. Cat-Cow

This stretch combines two yoga poses that help create space between the disks that are causing you pain and relieving the pressure on your spine. Additionally, it helps the recovery process and provides some spine mobility.

When doing this pose, get on your hands and knees and look upward. Imagine a string is pulling your belly button to the floor, creating an arch in your low back. Exhale and move into rounding your back and transition to looking downward at your chest. Repeat these alternating motions ten times for three rounds.

4. Standing Extension

This exercise helps combat the habitual hunch that strains your back. This helps move the disks in a neutral position.

To begin this exercise, start by standing up in a proper posture. Set your hands on your lower back and begin to push your pelvis forward. Keep extending your back until your gaze meets the ceiling. Start by doing this motion ten times for three rounds.

5. Bird- Dog

This exercise promotes good posture by working the deep spinal muscles and increasing low back muscle stabilization. Engaging your abdominal muscles during this exercise is crucial for promoting spinal alignment and stability. Doing this exercise will prevent future herniated disks by working up to better posture.

To do this exercise, start on your hands and knees with your knees bent and hands directly under your shoulders to ensure proper alignment. Make sure your shoulders are correctly aligned with your hands and your knees with your hips. Start by reaching out with your left arm and keeping it aligned with your torso. At the same time, kick your right leg out while keeping it aligned with your torso. Hold this position for a few pauses and return to your starting position. Continue with the opposite side. Alternate each side ten times for three rounds. This exercise is best when it is done in a slow and controlled manner to maximize its benefits and minimize the risk of injury.

Consult a Spine Specialist for a Complete Exercise Routine to Relieve Herniated Disk Back Pain

Exercising and stretching are important when recovering the health of your spine due to a herniated disk or preventing a herniated disk from occurring. Every person’s spine and herniated disk is unique and specific to the individual, so you must consult a skilled spine specialist to make sure you are doing the proper routine for your spine injury. Spine specialists often recommend physical therapy as a comprehensive approach tailored to individual needs, which may include exercises like the piriformis muscle stretch to relieve pain and improve flexibility.

If you are feeling pain due to a herniated disk, consult the local expert spine specialists at NJ Spine and Orthopedic to receive guidance and care specific to your situation. Our caring spine specialists create personalized treatment plans and exercise programs, including physical therapy, to ensure you are on your way to recovery and remain pain-free. To schedule an appointment with a local spine specialist in your area, please call (866) 553-0612 or fill out our contact form.

Frequently Asked Questions about Herniated Disc Back Pain Exercises

1. What are the best exercises for herniated disk back pain?

Spinal decompression, Cobra pose, Cat-Cow, Standing extension, and Bird-Dog are highly recommended exercises. These exercises help relieve pressure on the spine, promoting flexibility, and strengthening the core and back muscles to support the spine better​​.

2. How often should I perform these exercises?

For optimal results, it’s generally recommended to perform these exercises 3-5 times a week. Consistency is key to improving flexibility, strength, and pain relief.

3. Can these exercises worsen my condition?

If performed correctly, these exercises should not worsen your condition. However, it is crucial to start slowly, listen to your body, and avoid pushing through pain. Consulting with a physical therapist before starting any exercise regimen is advisable to ensure the exercises are performed correctly and safely​.

4. Are there any exercises I should avoid with a herniated disk?

Yes, certain exercises can exacerbate a herniated disk. Avoid high-impact activities and exercises that involve heavy lifting, excessive twisting, or bending forward. Specifically, exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and leg lifts can increase pressure on the spine and should be avoided​​.

5. What other treatments can help alongside exercises?

Alongside exercises, treatments such as physical therapy, pain medication, and lifestyle changes (e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, proper posture) can be beneficial. In some cases, using a lumbar traction device to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves or undergoing light aerobic exercises like walking or swimming can help alleviate symptoms​.

By incorporating these exercises into your routine and following these guidelines, you can manage herniated disk pain more effectively. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program to ensure it’s safe and suitable for your specific condition.

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