Rehabilitation & Recovery

5 Best Herniated Disc Exercises For Sciatica & Back Pain

herniated disc exercises

Herniated disc exercises can provide relief from low back pain and discomfort to other parts of the body associated with a herniated disc.  

In this article, we’re going to suggest some exercises specifically for those of you who’ve suffered from a herniated disc.  

Recommended Reading – 4 Effective Acupressure Points For Lower Back Pain Relief

But before we do that, let’s look at the condition in more detail.   

What Is A Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc happens when one of the discs that sits in between the bones of the spinal column ruptures.  

It’s a very common condition that can be caused by numerous factors.  

Sometimes referred to as a slipped disc or disk herniation, the gel-like center of an intervertebral disc (called the nucleus pulposus) protrudes through a tear in the outer layer (the annulus fibrosus).

Herniated Disc

When this happens, it can result in pain, numbness, and weakness to the affected area.

A herniated disc can happen in any part of the spine, but it’s most common in the lumbar spine, which is your lower spine.  

This is what’s known as a lumbar disc herniation.  

The spinal discs are located between the vertebrae of your spinal column and their purpose is to act as shock absorbers.

They have a soft and cushion-like center but a tough outer portion. 

The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal, which is formed by the vertebrae.

When a disc herniates, it can put pressure on the cord or the spinal nerves that branch off from it.  

A herniated disk is different from a bulging disc.  

Spinal Conditions

This happens when the disc protrudes slightly but doesn’t rupture.  

Causes And Symptoms Of Herniated Discs

If you’re experiencing neck pain, lower back pain, leg pain, or muscle weakness, you may be suffering from a herniated disc. 

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of a herniated disc.  

These can range from your age, genetics, and lifestyle.  As you age, the discs in your spine can lose their flexibility which makes them more prone to injury. 

If you have a family history of herniated discs, you may be more likely to develop one yourself.  

Additionally, factors such as smoking, poor posture, and a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of developing a herniated disc.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Symptoms of a herniated disc can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury.

Some people may experience severe pain, whilst others may only feel mild discomfort. 

The most common symptoms include the following: 

  • Pain to the neck, lower back, or legs
  • Muscle weakness which affects muscles located close to the site of injury
  • Tingling or numbness to the affected area
  • Difficulty standing or sitting, especially for extended periods of time
  • Pain that worsens with movement or activity

How To Treat A Herniated Disc

The treatment for a herniated disc will depend on the severity of symptoms, the location of the herniation, and your overall health. 

The good news is, that in many cases, non surgical treatments are effective in offering pain relief and promoting the healing of the disc. 

Below are some of the most common ways of treating a herniated disc.  

It’s important to note that these are not recommendations but merely treatments that may be suggested by your health care provider following on from a proper diagnosis.  

Rest And Activity Modification

Initially, resting the affected area and avoiding activities that may worsen your symptoms can help reduce inflammation giving the disc a chance to heal.  

This would only be a temporary measure to ensure muscle weakness and stiffness doesn’t set in.   

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, can help to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

NSAIDS Ibuprofen & Paracetamol

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications if necessary.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen your muscles that support your spine, improve flexibility, and correct bad posture.  

Sometimes, they may also use techniques such as traction or manual therapy to relieve pressure to the affected nerves.

Physical Therapist Assessing Herniated Disc

Heat And Ice Therapy

Applying heat or ice to the affected area is a conservative treatment that may help to reduce pain and swelling.

Ice is typically used during the acute phase to numb the area and reduce swelling.  

Ice Pack For Lower Back

However, heat is more useful for relaxing your muscles and improving blood flow during the sub-acute or chronic phase.

Epidural Steroid Spinal Injections

In some cases, a doctor may recommend injecting corticosteroids directly into the affected area around the spinal nerves. 

Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression is a treatment option that can be used to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

This can be done through non-surgical methods, such as traction or inversion therapy, or through surgical intervention.

inversion therapy

Your doctor can help determine if spinal decompression is a viable treatment option for your herniated disc.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a proper posture, avoiding smoking, and engaging in regular low-impact exercise, can support the healing process and prevent further disc issues.  

This is also beneficial for overall health.  

Best Herniated Disc Exercises

Before engaging in any of the following exercises, especially when suffering from a herniated disc, always seek the advice from your doctor.  

Here are some of the best exercises for herniated disc that you can do:

Seated Pelvic Tilt

The seated pelvic tilt is a low impact movement that can help to encourage a more neutral spine whilst keeping pressure away from your spine.  

It does this by helping to strengthen and stabilize the abdominal muscles including your lower back and pelvic region.  

YouTube video

How To Do The Seated Pelvic Tilt:

  1. Sit up straight on a chair and ensure your glutes are all the way to the back.  
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart.  Rest your hands on your thighs.  This is your starting position.  
  3. Carefully push your lower back into the back of your chair so that pelvis lifts up.  
  4. Hold this position for around 10 seconds.  
  5. Then slowly release the tilt, allowing your pelvis to return to its neutral position.
  6. Perform 10-15 repetitions of the seated pelvic tilt exercise.

Standing Lumbar Extension

A standing lumbar extension is an exercise that involves arching your lower back whilst standing.  

It can help to strengthen the muscles that support your lumbar spine and improve flexibility to the lower back area. 

YouTube video

How To Do The Standing Lumbar Extension:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Keep your head and chest up.  
  3. From here gently and slowly arch your lower back, pushing your hips slightly forward and leaning back. 
  4. The movement should be focused on the lower back and avoid leaning backward from the upper back or neck.
  5. Hold the arched position for a couple of seconds whilst breathing normally.  
  6. Inhale and return to the neutral standing position.
  7. Repeat the movement for 10-15 repetitions.

Press-Up Back Extension

The press up back extension, also known as the prone press up, is an extension exercise that targets the muscles of your lower back helping to improve spinal mobility and strength.  

It’s often used in physical therapy and rehab settings, and it can be beneficial if you have certain back conditions, such as herniated discs, helping to relieve pain and encourage healing. 

YouTube video

How To Do The Press Up Back Extension:

  1. Start by lying down in a prone position, ideally on an exercise mat. 
  2. Place your hands next to your shoulders with palms and forearms flat on the floor.  
  3. Keeping your hips pressed into the floor push through your hands to raise your upper body off the ground.  
  4. Also ensure you keep your shoulders down and relaxed and chest up.  
  5. Hold this position for a few seconds and lower yourself back to the ground.  
  6. Complete 10 to 15 repetitions.  

Cat Cow Exercise

The Cat-Cow exercise, also known Marjaryasana/Bitilasana in yoga, is a simple yoga pose that can help to improve spinal flexibility and mobility.

It’s often used as a gentle warm-up or a way to relieve tension to your back and next.  

YouTube video

How To Do The Cat Cow Stretch:

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, keep your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. 
  2. Your spine should be in a neutral position.
  3. Inhale deeply and lift your head and tailbone towards the ceiling, arching your back downward. This is the Cow position. Your belly will move closer to the floor, and your gaze should be directed up.  
  4. Then exhale slowly and and lower your head and chest whilst rounding your lower back.
  5. With a herniated disc it’s important not to force this part of the movement as it will likely be the most uncomfortable so only round your back as far as it remains comfortable and don’t be tempted to push through any pain.  
  6. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions.  

Bird Dog On Exercise Ball

The Bird Dog exercise using an exercise ball is a variation of the traditional Bird Dog exercise.

By performing it on an exercise ball adds an extra challenge by requiring more balance and stability so that you execute the movement correctly. 

YouTube video

Here’s How To Do The Bird Dog On An Exercise Ball:

  1. Begin by kneeling on the floor with your hands placed directly under your shoulders and the exercise ball positioned under your abdomen and pelvis.
  2. Your knees should be hip-width apart, and your feet should be flexed, with the toes in contact with the floor.
  3. Engage your core muscles to provide stability.  
  4. Now extend your right arm straight out in front of you until it’s parallel to the floor. 
  5. At the same time, extend your left leg straight back, also until it’s parallel to the floor. 
  6. Your body should form a straight line from your fingertips to your heel.
  7. Maintain this position for a few seconds and focus on maintaining your balance. 
  8. Slowly bring your right arm and left leg back to the starting position on the exercise ball.
  9. Now, repeat the movement on the opposite side by extending your left arm and right leg.
  10. Perform 20 repetitions, 10 per side.  

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are a variety of medical treatment options available for individuals with a herniated disc.

It is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.

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