10 Best Back Exercises for Bulging Disc Pain

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Back Exercises for Bulging Disc

These upper and lower back exercises for bulging disc pain relief are used to push (decompress) the disc material off of the spinal cord.

This physical therapy style of treatment is among the most effective elements of the healing process.

However, for safety reasons, they’re recommended to be used under the supervision of a physical therapist.

At least until you get the hang of them.

Now, I’ll cover 10 of the best exercises.

Five for the lumbar spine (lower), and five for the cervical spine (upper).

5 Bulging Disc Exercises for the Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine contains 5 vertebrae that are located in the lower region of the back.

A disc bulge in the area may cause leg or lower back pain.

1. Piriformis Muscle Stretch

The piriformis is a muscle located within the gluteal region.

When a disc bulges, this muscle tends to become tight, causing discomfort in the sciatic nerve and a loss of mobility.

Fortunately, this stretch can be used to lengthen the piriformis, hips, and legs to provide relief.

How it’s done:

  1. Sit upright in a chair with one leg crossed over the other.
  2. Place both hands on the crossed knee.
  3. Gently pull this knee toward your opposite shoulder.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
  5. Repeat for 2-3 sets.

2. Cobra Pose

The cobra pose is a two-progression movement that can be tailored to your physical abilities and level of pain.

If your l-spine has low flexibility then start with the half cobra.

For greater decompression, the full cobra is the way to go.

However, it may be harder to perform with weakened muscles.

With either option, it’s important to go slow and maintain neutral alignment throughout the upper body in the sagittal and frontal planes to avoid further back pain.

The cobra pose is not for everyone.

If you feel worse while doing it stop and try a different exercise.

How to do the half:

  1. Start in the prone position on a yoga mat.
  2. Slowly prop onto your elbows with your forearms and palms resting flat on the mat (Elbows should be under the shoulders).
  3. Lower your chest so that you’re lying flat.
  4. Then, push up using your hands to lift the chest off the floor and extend your spine.
  5. Ensure your forearms and elbows remain flat.
  6. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat for 2-3 sets.

How to do the full:

  1. Begin in the half-cobra pose.
  2. Slide your elbows a bit closer to your stomach.
  3. Push your upper body off the ground using elbow extension.
  4. Make sure to keep your hips on the ground.
  5. Again, hold the end position for 30 seconds and repeat.

3. Cat-Cow

Can’t decide whether you like cats or cows more?

Well, don’t worry, because, with the cat-cow exercise, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

You will replicate the look of both animals by moving your spine through flexion and extension.

Helping reduce pressure on the vertebrae to get better blood flow into the damaged disc to flush out waste.

How it’s done:

  1. Get into a tabletop with your back parallel to the ground.
  2. Draw your core inwards.
  3. Slowly round your back toward the ceiling by tucking the tailbone and slightly curving your gaze to the floor. (Cat Pose)
  4. Hold for 2-3 seconds.
  5. Then, lower your stomach toward the floor and shift your pelvis back.
  6. Your gaze should be directed at the ceiling. (Cow Pose)
  7. Hold, then repeat the entire movement for 5-10 reps.

4. Plank

The plank is a static exercise, meaning it strengthens the abdominals and back muscles without any dynamic movements.

This is great for improving overall balance and stability.

This also decreases the chance of further injury.

How it’s done:

  1. Kneel with your forearms and elbows pressed against the floor.
  2. Extend your legs back with your heels up and toes on the ground.
  3. There should be a straight line throughout your entire body.
  4. Engage your core.
  5. Hold the plank position for 30-60 seconds.

5. Hanging Spinal Decompression

Hanging spinal decompression is something I recently started doing at the end of every workout.

They’ve made it much easier for me to take deep breaths and I definitely feel looser and more relaxed in general.

Regarding a disc bulge, these hangs can reduce the amount of compression against the disc and promote healing.

There are also advanced decompression techniques for patients who want to avoid surgery after unsuccessful attempts with normal PT.

How it’s done:

  1. Set up a bench or box underneath a pull-up bar.
  2. Grab the bar using an overhand grip shoulder width apart with your feet on the bench.
  3. Begin lowering with your knees bent to straighten your arms in a slow and controlled manner.
  4. Take deep breaths to relax your body as you hang for 10-30 seconds.

Avoid twisting motions while hanging as this may worsen the back pain.

5 Bulging Disc Exercises for the Cervical Spine

The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae located in the neck.

When a disc bulges in this area you may feel arm, shoulder, or neck pain.

1. Chin Tuck

Chin tucks aid in realigning the vertebrae in your neck to correct excessive forward head posture.

The byproduct is increased strength in the neck flexor and extensor muscles and a release of tension in the pain point.

How it’s done:

  1. Sit in a chair with your head forward facing.
  2. Put your pointer finger on your chin while the neck is in a natural position.
  3. Slowly tuck your chin inward by moving your head backward.
  4. Hold for 2-3 seconds before releasing to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 8-10 repetitions.

2. Neck Rotation

Neck rotations are a good way to increase your neck’s range of motion.

Avoid rotating further than you feel comfortable.

Otherwise, you might tweak a muscle.

How it’s done:

  1. Stand with your back flat against a wall.
  2. Raise your hands out to the sides with the arms bent at 90 degrees.
  3. With your head facing forward, begin rotating toward the right shoulder until you feel a comfortable stretch.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Rotate to the left.
  6. Return to the start.
  7. Continue alternating for 5-10 reps in each direction.

3. Scapular Retraction

Scapular, or shoulder retraction, is a vital motion for maintaining an upright posture.

It targets muscles in the upper and mid-back.

This not only helps keep the neck and shoulders in alignment but can alleviate pressure on the spinal cord.

How it’s done:

  1. Sit reverse style in a chair so that your stomach is against the backrest.
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor and grab the backrest using a neutral grip.
  3. Pull your shoulders slightly up and then backward.
  4. Stop and squeeze once you feel a nice contraction.
  5. Release your shoulder blades and repeat.

4. Supine Neck Extension

Neck extensions are designed to stretch and contract the flexor muscles.

Allowing for more flexibility within the joints.

Performing them from the supine (lying) position is ideal for adding extra resistance from gravity.

However, if you find this to be too difficult at first, you can do them while standing.

How it’s done:

  1. Lay flat on your back at the edge of a padded table or workout bench (your head and neck should be hanging off).
  2. Place either hand on the back of your head for support.
  3. Lower your head toward the floor (extension).
  4. Tuck your chin and flex your neck to move into the neutral position.
  5. Continue for 8-12 reps.

5. Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls take the basic retraction up a notch by adding dynamic motions.

These can help pull your shoulder blades into a more relaxed spot during daily activities while opening up the chest cavity.

Ultimately, reducing the amount of compression on disc bulges.

How it’s done:

  1. Stand tall with your arms relaxed.
  2. Begin lifting your shoulder blades upward, then backward.
  3. From here, move them down and forward.
  4. The motion should be somewhat circular.
  5. Repeat this sequence 5-10 times.

What Is a Bulging Disc?

The discs within the spinal cord act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae.

A bulging disc is when the inner layer (nucleus pulposus) leaks soft jelly-like material that sneaks into the outer layer (annulus fibrosis).

This increases the amount of compression within the spinal structures, which is typically when a person feels pain.

Causes of Disc Bulges

Disc bulges are commonly caused due to:

  • Heavy lifting with improper form.
  • Normal wear and tear from aging or everyday activities.
  • Poor posture.
  • Reductions in blood circulation from tobacco or a sedentary lifestyle.

Symptoms of a Disc Bulge

Notable symptoms of a disc bulge include:

  • Mild to severe neck or back pain.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Numbness or tingling in the surrounding extremities, ie: legs, arms, hands, or feet.

Some people may not notice any symptoms at all.

Treatments for Bulging Discs

Before getting into the treatments, I’d like to note that research suggests roughly 80% of disc bulges heal on their own.

However, implementing some sort of restorative strategy is still recommended.

This might include:

  • Performing specific exercises and stretches in physical therapy.
  • Gentle activities such as walking or swimming.
  • Cutting out tobacco products.
  • Pain Medications.
  • Quality sleep.
  • Proper hydration and nutrition.
  • Hot and cold therapy.
  • Surgery is a last resort.

Bulged Disc vs Herniated Disc: What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between bulged discs and herniated discs is the amount of pain and damage caused.

For starters, a cervical or lumbar herniated disc occurs when the inner fluid seeps PAST the tough outer portion due to a shattering or tearing.

A bulge on the other hand only protrudes INTO the tough exterior, caused by the flattening of a disc.

They contribute to the same pain symptoms, but disc herniation is typically more severe.

Related Article: Lower back herniated disc exercises

FAQ About Disc Bulges

What Is the Best Exercise for a Bulging Disc?

The best exercise for a bulging disc depends on the location and severity.

Typically, bodyweight core, back, and neck exercises and stretches or light cardiovascular activities like walking and swimming will promote recovery.

Can You Fix a Bulging Disc With Exercise?

Yes, you can usually fix a bulging disc with exercise as long as they’re low impact.

They help build strength and promote flexibility in the surrounding back muscles, in turn alleviating pressure on the spinal column.

What Exercises Should Be Avoided With Bulging Discs?

Exercises that should be avoided with bulging discs are:

– Deadlifts
– Squats
– Leg Press
– Sit-ups
– Abdominal Crunches
– Incline Treadmills
– Upright Cycling
– Twisting Movements
– Hanging Leg Raises

What Is the Fastest Way To Fix a Bulging Disc?

The fastest way to fix a bulging disc is to focus on getting adequate rest, drinking enough water, and performing gentle activities so blood can flow into the affected area.

You may also consider taking pain medication to reduce swelling or using hot and cold therapy.

Summary of Bulging Disc Exercises

Doing the right exercises is a great way to heal your bulging disc by moving the fluid back where it needs to be.

When done correctly and consistently there may be a noticeable reduction in back pain and other symptoms.

Of course, this depends on the severity of your disc problem.

It’s best to seek professional medical advice beforehand to determine what’s safe for you.




Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at edecremer@wildnswole.com!