Healing from Herniated Disc: Effective Exercises For Herniated Disc in Lower Back
Herniated discs can be a painful and debilitating condition, affecting millions of people worldwide. The impact on the lower back can significantly limit one’s ability to function and enjoy daily life. While there are various treatment options available, exercise has emerged as a crucial component in the recovery process.
In this post, we will delve into the world of the most effective exercises for herniated disc in lower back.
(Before trying any new exercise, physical activity, therapy, or treatment, you should consult with a physician or other health care professional to ensure that the new activity or therapy is appropriate for you.)
An Overview of Herniated Discs
A herniated disc or herniated disk, also known as a “slipped disc”, “bulging disc” or “ruptured disc,” occurs when the soft, gel-like material inside a spinal disc protrudes through a tear in the disc’s outer layer of intervertebral disc space. This protrusion can put pressure on nearby nerves, leading to pain, numbness, weakness, and rarely, lack of bowel or bladder control.
A herniated disc occurs with age-related degeneration, repetitive stress on the spine, and sudden trauma or injury.
Symptoms and Common Complications
The symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the location and severity of the condition. Common signs include sharp or shooting pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet, as well as numbness or tingling in the affected areas.
In more severe cases, individuals may experience muscle weakness, making it difficult to perform everyday activities. If left untreated, herniated discs can lead to complications such as sciatica, which is characterized by radiating pain along the sciatic nerve.
Diagnosis and Evaluation
Diagnosing a herniated disc involves a careful evaluation of the patient’s medical history, a physical examination, and imaging tests. Medical professionals look for specific signs and symptoms, such as pain that worsens with certain movements or positions, muscle weakness, and decreased reflexes.
Diagnostic Procedures and Medical Consultations
Advanced diagnostic procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, are often employed to confirm the presence of a herniated disc and assess its location and severity. Additionally, seeking medical consultations promptly can ensure an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment.
Exercise Considerations for Herniated Discs
Before engaging in any herniated disc exercises, it is crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare professional, including a physical therapy or orthopedic specialist. These professionals can conduct a thorough evaluation, taking into account the individual’s specific condition and medical history, to design a tailored exercise program.
Precautions and Safety Guidelines During Exercise
Safety is paramount when performing exercises for a herniated disc. To minimize the risk of exacerbating the condition, individuals should avoid high-impact activities and movements that involve excessive bending or twisting of the spine. Low-impact exercises and herniated disc stretches that focus on gentle movements in a slow and controlled manner and proper form are preferable.
Strengthening Exercises For Herniated Disc in Lower Back
Numerous medical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of strengthening exercises in improving pain and function in individuals with herniated discs.
1. Plank Variations for a Strong Core
Research published in the Journal of Morphology & Kinesiology has shown that plank exercises can significantly strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles, enhancing core stability and reducing pain in individuals with chronic low back pain.
To perform a basic plank:
- At the starting position with your face down with your forearms and toes on the floor.
- Maintain a straight line from your head to your heels, engaging your core.
- Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, gradually increasing the duration as you get stronger.
2. Bridging Exercises to Stabilize the Lower Back
A study conducted by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science demonstrated that bridging exercises effectively activate the gluteal and leg muscles and stabilizers of the lumbar spine, contributing to improved stability and reduced pain in patients with herniated discs.
To perform a basic bridge:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips off the ground, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Hold for a few seconds before lowering your hips back down.
3. Pelvic Tilts and Hip Exercises for Improved Stability
Pelvic tilts have been found to improve lumbar stability and flexibility in individuals with low back pain, as reported in a study published in the Archives of Bone and Joint Surgery.
To perform pelvic tilts:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Gently tilt your pelvis upward while pressing your lower back into the floor.
- Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
4. Leg Raises and Extensions for Lower Body Strength
According to a study published in the Open Sports Sciences Journal, leg raises and leg presses can effectively strengthen the muscles of the lower back and lower extremities, contributing to improved functional outcomes in individuals with recurrent herniated discs.
To do leg raises:
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead.
- Lift your left leg off the floor, keeping it straight, and hold for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower the leg and repeat with the other leg.
Flexibility and Mobility Exercises For Herniated Disc in Lower Back
Medical research supports the incorporation of flexibility and mobility exercises to alleviate pain and stiffness associated with a herniated disc.
1. Hamstring Stretches for Improved Flexibility
Tight hamstrings are common in individuals with lower back pain. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that regular hamstring stretching significantly reduces pain and disability in patients with lumbar radiculopathy caused by herniated discs.
To stretch your hamstrings:
- Sit on the floor with one leg extended and the other bent.
- Reach forward with both hands toward the extended foot until you feel a gentle stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
2. Cat-Camel Stretches for Spinal Mobility
Cat-camel stretches are recommended by physical therapists to improve the flexibility and mobility of the spine. These multifidus muscle exercises can help reduce pain and improve functional outcomes in individuals with low back pain, including those with herniated discs.
To perform cat-camel stretches:
- Position yourself on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Arch your back upward like a cat, then lower it down to create a curve like a camel.
- Repeat the movements slowly, focusing on the mobility of your spine.
3. Piriformis Stretches for Relieving Sciatic Nerve Pressure
Tightness in the piriformis muscle can contribute to sciatic nerve compression and pain. Piriformis stretching can alleviate sciatic nerve symptoms and improve functional outcomes in patients with lumbar disc herniation.
To stretch the piriformis:
- Lie on your back with both knees bent.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite knee, then gently pull the knee toward your chest.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and switch sides.
4. Quadriceps and Hip Flexor Stretches for Reduced Strain
Tight quadriceps and hip flexors can place additional strain on the lower back. Regular stretching of these muscles can contribute to reduced pain and disability in individuals with low back pain, including those with herniated discs.
To stretch these muscles:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Grab one ankle and pull it toward your buttocks, feeling a stretch in the front of your thigh.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercises For Herniated Disc in Lower Back
Safe aerobic activities are crucial for improving cardiovascular health without exacerbating a herniated disc.
1. Walking and Brisk Walking Routines
Walking is a low-impact and accessible exercise that can promote cardiovascular fitness and support the healing process for individuals with herniated discs. A meta-analysis found that walking can be an effective exercise option for individuals with chronic low back pain, leading to improved physical function and quality of life.
Begin with short walks and gradually increase the duration and pace over time.
2. Cycling and Stationary Biking for Lower Body Exercise
Cycling is another low-impact activity that minimizes stress on the spine. Stationary biking is known to be beneficial for individuals with low back pain, improving pain intensity and functional capacity. Consider using a stationary bike or cycling outdoors on flat terrain.
3. Water-Based Exercises for Buoyancy and Reduced Impact
Water-based exercises, such as swimming or water aerobics, offer buoyancy that reduces pressure on the spine and joints. A study published in the JAMA Network demonstrated that aquatic exercise can improve pain and physical function in patients with chronic low back pain, including those with herniated discs. Participate in water-based exercises for a gentle and effective cardiovascular workout.
4. Elliptical Workouts for Full-Body Engagement
Elliptical machines provide a low-impact, full-body workout that is gentle on the joints and spine. The Pain Outcomes with an Elliptical Regimen (POWER) Study reported that elliptical training can lead to improved physical function and reduced pain in patients with low back pain.
Include elliptical workouts in your exercise routine for a challenging yet safe cardiovascular activity.
Posture Correction and Alignment Exercises For Herniated Disc in Lower Back
Corrective exercises that promote proper posture and spinal alignment can significantly reduce strain on the lower back.
1. McKenzie Exercises for Disc Repositioning
The McKenzie method, a specific type of exercise therapy, focuses on centralizing the pain caused by disc herniation and repositioning the disc material. A study published in the Medical Science Monitor found that the McKenzie method can improve pain and disability in individuals with lumbar disc herniation.
You must work with a trained physical therapist to learn and perform McKenzie exercises correctly.
2. Shoulder Blade Squeezes for Upper Back Support
Shoulder blade squeezes help strengthen the muscles around the upper back, promoting better posture and reducing stress on the lower back. Scapular stabilization exercises can improve functional outcomes in patients with chronic low back pain.
To perform shoulder blade squeezes:
- Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, as if trying to hold a pencil between them.
- Hold the squeeze for 5-10 seconds, then release and repeat.
3. Wall Sits and Squats for Optimal Spinal Alignment
Wall sits and squats engage the core and lower body, promoting optimal spinal alignment and stability. Squats can effectively activate the abdominal muscles and lower back extensors.
To perform wall sits:
- 1. Stand with your back against a wall and feet shoulder-width apart.
- 2. Slowly slide down the wall, bending your knees until they form a 90-degree angle.
- 3. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, then stand back up.
4. Yoga and Pilates for Posture Improvement
Yoga and Pilates incorporate exercises that enhance flexibility, core strength, and posture. A study published in the Journal of Orthopedic Rheumatology concluded that yoga can significantly reduce pain and disability in individuals with chronic low back pain, including those with herniated discs.
Participate in yoga or Pilates classes led by certified instructors to ensure proper technique and alignment.
Exercise Progression and Gradual Intensity Increase
We emphasize the importance of gradual progression and monitoring of exercise intensity in individuals with herniated discs. Begin with gentle exercises that do not relieve pain and gradually increase the complexity and intensity of the movements over time.
Resistance training can be beneficial for strengthening muscles and promoting spinal stability. However, it is essential to perform resistance exercises safely, under the guidance of a physical therapist or fitness professional, to avoid exacerbating the condition.
Listen to your body and pay close attention to pain levels during and after exercise. If an exercise causes discomfort or aggravates your condition, modify or avoid it.
Attending physical therapy is crucial for designing a personalized exercise program that caters to your specific needs and limitations. They can provide expert guidance in adjusting exercise intensity, form, and duration based on your progress and condition.
Other Therapeutic Approaches
In addition to exercise, various complementary and restorative therapies can aid in herniated disc recovery. While these therapies may not directly address the herniated disc itself, they can contribute to pain relief and overall well-being.
1. Heat and Cold Therapy for Pain Relief
Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain associated with a herniated disc.
2. Massage and Manual Therapy Techniques
Massage and manual therapy can promote muscle relaxation, reduce muscle tension, and improve circulation, providing relief for individuals with herniated discs.
3. Acupuncture and Dry Needling for Symptom Management
Acupuncture and dry needling involve the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to alleviate pain and promote healing. According to a systematic review published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, acupuncture can be effective in reducing pain and disability in patients with chronic low back pain.
Take Control of Your Recovery with Evidence-Based Exercises
Healing from a herniated disc is a journey that requires dedication and the right tools. These exercises have shown remarkable benefits in strengthening muscles, improving flexibility, and alleviating pain.
By incorporating them into your daily routine and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, you can take charge of your recovery and embrace a more active and pain-free life.
If you fail to find relief from your pain, you may also wish to explore ReActiv8, the first FDA-approved restorative neurostimulation therapy for mechanical chronic low back pain. Discover how ReActiv8’s minimally invasive and non-pharmacological approach can provide you with the support you need to achieve optimal back health.
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