Exercises With Bulging Disc: The Right and Wrong Ones

A bulging disc—a condition that occurs when the inner nucleus of a vertebral disc protrudes to its outer layer—is a relatively common injury that typically results from normal wear and tear on your spine. The level of pain that accompanies a bulging disc varies from person to person. If you’re in a position where the discomfort is endurable, it may be in your best interest to pair conservative methods of treatment with the right kind of exercises so you can reduce your overall level of pain and encourage the healing process.

It’s vital, however, that you exercise in a safe and proper manner. Poor exercise choices could lead to further injury and surrounding tissue damage. We’ve gathered some exercises that encourage healing as well as those you should avoid.

To manage a bulging disc, it’s crucial to incorporate specific exercises that target the spine’s support system. Strengthening the core muscles, including the abdominals and back muscles, can significantly alleviate the pressure on the spine, potentially reducing the bulge of the disc. However, it’s essential to approach these exercises with caution. Overexerting oneself or engaging in high-impact activities can worsen the condition. Instead, focus on low-impact exercises that gently stretch and strengthen the spine without adding undue stress. Activities such as Pilates, yoga, and swimming are excellent options. They not only enhance core strength and flexibility but also promote overall well-being. For more detailed guidance on exercises suitable for a bulging disc, consider consulting a physical therapist or referring to reputable sources like Spine-health or the Mayo Clinic. To minimize the risk of further injury, it’s advisable to perform these exercises in a slow and controlled manner, emphasizing the importance of gentle movements to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine and reduce pressure on the spinal column.

What Is a Bulging Disc?

Before you go about exercising with a bulging disc, it’s important that you fully understand your injury and the limitations that come along with it, including the range of herniated disc symptoms you might experience.

At least 90 percent of people over the age of 30 have at least one episode of back pain, and most of this pain is the result of a disc problem. Our spinal column is made up of stacked vertebral bones. Soft cartilage discs in our back are positioned between the vertebrae to cushion them as we flex and move, and each disc has a skin of tough outer cartilage that’s shaped to fit precisely between the vertebrae it cushions. Bulging discs occur when the outer shell becomes weaker, allowing the disc to swell to one side of the spinal canal.

A bulging disc can cause herniated disc symptoms like pain in your neck, shoulder, arm, or chest, leading to numbness, tingling, and weakness in your arms or fingers. Potential treatment options include a laminectomy, a laminotomy, disc replacement, anterior cervical disc fusion, and lumbar fusion. An expert spinal surgeon can help you determine that best path forward after analyzing your condition.

Safe Exercises for Individuals with Lumbar Spine Bulging Disc

Though exercising can’t necessarily heal a bulging disc, it can strengthen your back, increase spine stability, and help decrease stress on the disc. It’s important to note that every injury is different, so it’s in your best interest to contact a medical professional before participating in any strenuous exercise. Incorporating herniated disc exercises into your routine is crucial for a personalized approach to evaluating your fitness levels, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the exercises tailored to your needs. With that being said, here are few movements that are generally safe for those with a bulging disc:

  • Heel taps: Static abdominal exercises are great for strengthening the core and stabilizing the spine. Begin by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and legs raised to 90 degrees. Lower one heel at a time to the floor while tightening your abdominal muscles and pushing your lower back into the floor.
  • Glute bridges: Glute bridges are a safe and effective lower body exercise meant to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and heels on the ground. Repetitively lift your hips off the ground until your shoulders, hips, and knees are in a straight line.
  • Reverse crunches: Begin by lying on your back and bending your knees. Bring your knees to your chest, moving your hips off the floor. When your glutes are off the ground, lower everything back down and repeat.

Including specific herniated disc stretches and stretching exercises in your regimen is vital for alleviating symptoms and improving flexibility. These activities reduce tension in muscles surrounding the spinal column and are essential for those with lower back, neck, and upper back issues.

Other safe exercises include pelvic tilts, low-impact aerobics activities, superman holds, and McKenzie presses. Go slow at first to ensure no motions aggravate your back.

Generally speaking—as long as they’re performed correctly—core and back exercises are beneficial for bulging discs, as are activities like walking, elliptical exercise, swimming, and riding a stationary or regular bike. Contact a physician to help you understand the specifics of your injury and the appropriate exercises for optimal health.

Unsafe Herniated Disc Exercises for Individuals with a Bulging Disc

There are a few specific movements to avoid that may actually worsen your condition. In general, stay away from any kind of exercise that puts pressure on the affected joints and overexerts your abdominal muscles. This includes:

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

Additionally, it’s crucial to be aware of rare but serious symptoms such as loss of bowel or bladder control. This could indicate a severe disc issue requiring immediate medical attention.

For those with severe or worsening symptoms, considering physical therapy as part of your treatment plan is advisable. Physical therapy can provide a safe exercise routine, focusing on strengthening muscles, promoting flexibility, and supporting recovery while carefully managing symptoms associated with herniated discs.

If you decide to exercise with an injured disc, try to avoid staying in one position for too long, moving without awareness and diligence, extreme ranges of motion, and holding your breath.

Visit the Experts at NJ Spine and Orthopedic

If you’ve suffered a bulging disc, consider reaching out to the trusted medical professionals at NJ Spine and Orthopedic for treatment. Our experienced and board-certified neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic specialists, and physicians will talk with you one-on-one about your specific injury or condition, including neck pain, and discuss treatment options that are right for you. We’ll always start with conservative methods before recommending surgery. Our team focuses on minimally invasive techniques that will reduce your pain and encourage faster recovery times, treating conditions affecting both the lower and upper body.

At NJ Spine and Orthopedic, we can help treat your bulging disc, relieve you of your pain, and get you on the road to recovery. If you think you may be suffering from a bulging disc but are unsure of the cause of your pain, take our free online pain assessment. If you know your condition but want to discover the appropriate treatment options, consider utilizing our Treatment Finder. Otherwise, give us a call at (866) 272-9271 or complete our contact form today!

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