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Herniated disc lower back exercises are prescribed to reduce pain symptoms by building strength in the surrounding muscles.
Below I will cover a variety of strengthening and stretching exercises you can perform to start seeing positive results in your recovery.
I’ll also explain what a lumbar disc is, along with additional restorative methods that may help.
- Common herniated disc symptoms are numbness in the legs and back, trouble standing or walking, and sudden jolts of pain from things like coughing.
- They are caused by leakage of inner disc fluid that leads to shifting. This compresses the nerves in the lumbar spine.
- The best treatment options include a low-impact exercise program, physical therapy, hydration, rest, and decompression belts.
- Flexion and extension are two popular movements to relieve strain from a disc.
Table of Contents
15 Herniated Disc Exercises for Lower Back Pain
1. Hanging Spinal Decompression
Spinal decompression is a great way to increase intervertebral disc space and relieve pressure from the spinal nerves.
This allows you to regain mobility and potentially realign the discs.
Whatsmore, it can speed recovery since nutrients and oxygen are able to flow more freely into the affected areas.
Preferably you want to be able to grab the handles with your feet flat on the ground.
Mainly because you’ll have better control over how fast you lower into the decompression phase.
Going too fast can cause further back pain.
- Assume an overhand grip on a pull-up bar or gymnastics ring.
- Start with your elbows bent and standing up straight.
- Slowly lower yourself toward the ground by bending your knees and straightening your arms.
- With your arms straight, relax your stomach muscles.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets.
Doing the twist that’s portrayed at the end of the video is not recommended with a disc herniation.
2. Supine Piriformis Stretch
The piriformis sounds like a gibberish word, but it’s actually an important stabilizer for the hip muscles.
And oftentimes, when someone experiences pain in their lower spine or rear leg muscles from a pinched nerve, it’s due to tightness in this area.
I actually recently started using this stretch in my daily routine.
After the first session, I was shocked at the amount of instant relief there was.
Mind you I don’t have a herniated disc, so results may differ from person to person.
You can do it from a lying position, which won’t require too much balancing if that’s something you struggle with.
Also, this stretch is popular to relieve pain brought on by sciatica.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Cross your right leg over your left knee.
- Place your right hand on your right kneecap and the other hand on that same ankle.
- Gently pull the leg toward your opposite shoulder.
- You’ll feel a stretch in your gluteal muscles.
- Hold for 30 seconds before releasing to the starting position.
- Switch to the other leg.
3. Standing Lumbar Extension
Before attempting this exercise, speak with a physical therapist as proper form is critical.
You should avoid this one entirely if you suffer from spondylolisthesis (unless your doctor says otherwise).
Lumbar extensions help reposition herniated discs into their natural position around the spinal cord.
They do so by improving your range of motion to re-open the spinal canal.
If you suffer from poor posture or excessive forward flexion you may find great success from these kinds of movements.
Only extend as far as you feel comfortable.
Overextension can put an unnecessary amount of pressure on your lumbar discs.
- Stand up straight, facing forward with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward.
- Place your hands on your butt or hips.
- Slowly lean backward to achieve a curve in your lower back.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps, or do single rep holds for 15-20 seconds.
Related Article: Best Equipment for Lower Back Pain
4. Back Flexion
Now here’s the complete opposite movement of extension, known as flexion.
This exercise can be executed from a few different positions; seated, standing, or lying.
I’m going to guide you on how to do it laying down.
The forward bending of your spine can help alleviate lower back pain.
Especially if you’re suffering from a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
Also, this variation puts the least amount of pressure on your body.
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Slowly raise your knees toward your chest.
- Use your hands to pull them further.
- Do this for 2-4 seconds.
- Release to the starting position.
- Repeat this for 2-4 sets of 5-10 reps.
5. Plank Hold
Everybody loves the good ole plank hold.
Okay, maybe not, but I mean it’s one of the most targeted and specific exercises around for building the gluteal and abdominal muscles.
The contractions are completely isometric, meaning you won’t have to make any jarring moves.
You just hold your body weight in place and let your stabilizers do their thing.
Planks work deep muscles surrounding the lumbar region to promote stability and posture.
Plus, they’re modifiable for any fitness level.
For example, you can make them easier by keeping your knees on the ground.
Or harder by performing light alternating dumbbell rows.
- Assume a plank position with your legs extended back and your upper body elevated above your elbows.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds while maintaining a straight line between your upper and lower body.
- Take a 30-second break before repeating for 1-2 more sets.
6. Standing Resistance Band Row
This resistance training exercise differs from bent-over and dumbbell rows, in that your torso remains further upright.
Allowing you to focus on strengthening the latissimus dorsi, which is one of the large back muscles used for mobility and protection.
On top of that, the resistance bands provide constant muscle tension to help fill the pain points with blood.
POSSIBLY promoting faster healing.
The main downside to this movement is that you won’t engage the paraspinal muscles (lumbar spine supporters) as effectively since you’re not bent over.
When used consistently, the standing resistance band row will increase muscle mass and prevent the spinal cord from compressing.
- Wrap your band onto a secure post at chest height.
- Assume a neutral grip on the handles and step backward until you feel light resistance.
- Your chest should be up, feet shoulder-width apart, and arms straight in front of you.
- Slightly hinge at the hips and tighten your stomach muscles.
- Use your elbows for rowing the tension toward you.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull.
- Re-extend your arms to the starting position and repeat for 10-15 reps.
7. Sciatic Nerve Floss
For those of you who don’t know, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower back to the legs.
A herniated disc can press against this nerve, causing something called sciatica, which is responsible for back pain and leg weakness.
Now, I’m not sure who named this.
Because you won’t actually be using dental floss.
I don’t think that would feel very good.
However, similarly to flossing your teeth to get rid of plaque, you perform precise motions to break down scar tissue.
This movement decompresses the sciatic nerve for better mobility and may even alleviate neck pain.
- Sit upright in a chair.
- Slowly straighten one leg with your toes curled upward.
- Simultaneously extend your neck, so you’re facing the ceiling.
- Now, flex the knee backward (past 90 degrees) and neck downward.
- Hold the extended and flexed phases for about 2 seconds each, for a total of 10 reps.
- Focus on the affected leg.
I’m not a huge fan of cats, but I am a fan of the cat-cow.
This fictitious-sounding dynamic stretch is a popular choice compared to most other exercises for herniated disc relief.
It takes the spine through two sequences involving flexion and extension.
Promotes mobility within the lumbar discs and increases circulation, helping to reduce pressure.
- Assume a tabletop position facing the floor.
- Begin by slightly curving your lower back toward the floor with your head pointing forward. This is the cow pose.
- You’ll move into the cat pose by slowly rounding your back toward the ceiling, while simultaneously tucking your chin to your chest.
- Continue alternating between these motions for 5-10 reps each.
Here’s another exercise with a weird name for you.
The bird-dog targets a large number of muscles and is low impact.
By raising one leg and arm at the same time you will increase body awareness while reducing the risk of imbalances.
This builds stability in the hip, back, and abdominal muscles. It also improves balance and proper alignment.
- Kneel down with your palms in contact with the floor.
- Try to keep your knees under your hips, and hands under your shoulders.
- Extend your left leg backward and your right arm forward.
- Hold for 2-5 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Now, raise the left arm and right leg.
- Continue alternating sides for reps.
10. Half Cobra Pose
The half-cobra pose is a good progression for the full version.
Especially if you lack mobility in your spine, or if the extension level with the full cobra is painful for you.
Resets the body into its natural posture and decompresses the vertebrae.
- Start in the prone position.
- Place your palms on the ground next to your head at shoulder width apart.
- Raise your head and chest off the ground while pressing your hips against the floor.
- Slowly prop up onto your elbows.
- Look toward the ceiling.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds and exhale to return to the start.
11. Full Cobra Pose
As I mentioned above, the full cobra pose requires a higher level of flexibility in the lower back.
When done correctly, it can open up the areas of disc herniation to alleviate pain.
However, many people do not properly perform it, which could lead to painful jolts or impingements.
Be sure to go slow and only extend as far as you feel comfortable.
This pose stretches the anterior chain of your upper body and enhances breathing and digestive system functions.
And of course, pushes the herniated disc back into the proper vertebral location.
- Prop up on your elbows from lying on your stomach.
- Press your palms against the floor to slowly extend up.
- Your arms should be straight and your chest/stomach elevated.
- Keep your head facing upward while holding the pose for 30 seconds.
- Release downward and repeat for 2 sets.
12. Knee to Chest
This is a relaxation stretch for lengthening the hips, hamstrings, and glutes to push the pelvis back into place.
In turn, taking pressure off your lower back to improve the flow of blood into this region.
Alleviates lower back pain caused by tightness in the surrounding muscles.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Straighten your right leg.
- Grasp the back of your left thigh to pull the left knee toward your chest.
- Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat for 2 sets.
13. Swimming Pool Walks
Swimming pool walks, AKA aquatic therapy, can prevent the harsh effects of gravity while exercising that would otherwise compress your discs.
You’ll be able to get the blood and oxygen flowing without high stress on your joints.
Swimming may reduce aggravated swelling in the target area.
Also, the low-impact nature can make it easier to work the muscles around your injury to improve circulation to heal faster.
- Enter into a waist-height pool.
- Contract your abdominal muscles.
- Begin walking forward at a slow pace, while maintaining an upright posture.
- Once you reach the end of the pool, turn around and walk to the spot you started in.
- Try walking backward to engage different muscles.
14. Thomas Stretch
I have no clue who Thomas is.
But he sure knows how to design a hip flexor stretch.
These are important muscles to keep loose as tightness will pull on the lower back.
This excess pressure could lead to disc herniation.
Prevents the hip flexors from getting overly tight to ensure the pelvis and lumbar spine are supported.
- Sit on a firm bed and pull one leg toward your chest.
- Lay back with your other leg hanging over the edge in a relaxed manner.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds before switching legs.
Wall-sits provide a static contraction for the back, core, leg, and hip muscles.
Doing this action will help build strength and endurance without you needing to move from the main position.
It is fairly versatile so if you need an extra challenge you could set a weight plate in your lap.
Since you’re holding your body weight in a single spot the discs in your lower back are less likely to further pinch the nerves.
But the increase in blood flow will help them heal.
- Lean your back tight against a wall.
- Step forward and slide down the wall until your upper legs are parallel with the floor and form a 90-degree angle in relation to your ankles.
- Cross your arms over your chest or set them flat against the wall.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
If getting your legs parallel is difficult, then slide down as low as you’re capable.
What Are the Lower Spine Discs?
Discs act as padding to keep each vertebra safe.
They consist of two parts called the nucleus pulposus (inner layer), and annulus fibrosus (outer layer).
There are a total of 23 discs in the backbone, 5 of which are located in the lumbar region.
What Causes a Lumbar Disc Herniation?
A lumbar herniated disc occurs when the fluid within the nucleus pulposus leaks out.
This weakens the disc integrity, causing it to shift against a nerve, which leads to compression and back pain.
This is most frequent among older individuals due to normal wear and tear, and aging.
However, living a sedentary lifestyle or having a pre-existing back injury may also increase the risk.
Based on a yearly average, 12.5 out of every 1000 adults experience a lumbar herniated disk.
Diagnoses are more common in males than females and usually affect the lowest L5, L4, or S1 vertebrae.
Symptoms of a Herniated Disc
Symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Muscle spasm
- Leg, back, and/or neck pain
- Numbness in the legs or feet
- Difficulty standing up, walking, bending, or twisting
- Pain while coughing or sneezing
Treatments for a Herniated Lumbar Disc
Treatments for a herniated disc tend to involve conservative methods with surgery being a last resort.
Your healthcare provider may recommend:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting quality sleep
- Performing herniated disc stretches and targeted exercises in physical therapy
- Wearing decompression belts
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications
Fortunately, studies show roughly 85-90% of acute lumbar disc herniations heal within 6-12 weeks (sometimes sooner), without requiring extreme medical care.
FAQ for a Herniated Disc Problem
What Exercises Fix Herniated Disc?
Effective exercises to fix a herniated disc include:
– Seated hamstring stretches
– Bird dogs
– Swimming pool walks
– Scapular retractions
What Is the Best Exercise for Herniated Disc?
The best exercise for a herniated disc will depend on the severity and location of the herniation.
Here are 5 different exercises for you to try in physical therapy:
– Lumbar extensions
– Sciatic nerve floss
– Lying back flexion
– Knee to chest
– Lying piriformis stretch
What Is the Fastest Way To Heal a Herniated Disc in the Lower Back?
The fastest way to heal a herniated disc in the lower back is through physical therapy using the right exercises, rest, hydration, and spinal injections.
What Exercises Are Safe for Bulging Disc in Lower Back?
Exercises that are typically safe for a bulging disc in the lower back are:
– Low-impact cycling
– Lying figure 4 stretch
– Plank hold
– Cobra pose
– Spinal decompression hangs
– Knee hugs
Final Statement Regarding Lumbar Herniated Disc Exercises
A lumbar disc herniation is a serious injury.
But with a well-laid-out exercise program, you’ll be on your way to living symptom-free within weeks.
Hopefully, these 15 herniated disc exercises help to fast-track your recovery time!