If you’ve been diagnosed with a herniated disc and have pain shooting down your leg or an uncomfortable ache in your lower back, odds are you want to find relief and find it fast!
The good news is there are exercises that you can use to help alleviate your symptoms and jump start your road to recovery.
Let’s dive into some of the best exercises that you can use to reduce your pain and improve your mobility today if you have a herniated disc.
*Disclaimer: Please note that this blog is not intended to replace medical advice from your medical provider. Make sure you seek out an evaluation from either your primary care physician or physical therapist to ensure that the following exercises are appropriate for you.
Yes! Exercise is a safe treatment option for people with herniated discs. And when it’s compared to surgical intervention it has been shown to be extremely effective. The caveat is that it can take time and effort. Much of my job is helping people be successful but help carve out the road to recovery. It’s not easy but well worth it and the long term outcomes are great!
Increasing your overall activity levels in general has been found to be very effective for giving you some much needed pain relief and helping speed up your recovery if you have a herniated disc.
A good place to start is by increasing how much you walk. Most people who have a herniated disc will feel more comfortable when they are standing or walking.
I often encourage people to start with a program where you aim to walk 5 times a week for at least 20 minutes. Your back muscles contract with every step and it can be very effective activity for helping to treat pain related to a herniated disc.
It’s important to understand that there is no “one size fits all” treatment with a disc herniation. Many people have no symptoms while others have extreme leg pain.
The treatment of a herniated disc will vary depending on how long it’s been going on, severity of your symptoms, your lifestyle, and many other factors.
Honestly, there is a lot of variety in treatment of a herniated disc, especially if you have leg pain, because we all respond a bit differently to a disc herniation. This is why a good evaluation can be super helpful because a PT can determine which exercises are best for your individual needs.
But if you only have mild symptoms in your legs and/or back pain, then odds are you will most likely do well with one or both of these exercises:
Start on your belly and gradually increase the amount of extension at your back by pressing up using your arms while keeping your hips on the ground. This exercise will often relieve the stiffness associated with a disc herniation if you only have mild leg symptoms. The pressure can feel really good, try to relax into it. Breathe out as you press up.
Most people with a herniated disc feel better when their back is extended, which is why it’s more comfortable to stand. So playing into back extension is often a good way to reduce stiffness and ease your pain.
In this exercise, you get on all four and gently move between flexing and extending your back. It’s a great non-weight bearing movement that will help improve your range of motion at your lower back and can ease the pain.
At the end of the day, you want to keep moving in any way that feels good to your body if you have a herniated disc. And don’t forget, your physical therapist can help guide you to personalized exercises and treatment options to ease your pain so you can get back to feeling like your old self again.
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Gugliotta M, da Costa BR, Dabis E, et al. Surgical versus conservative treatment for lumbar disc herniation: a prospective cohort study. BMJ Open 2016;6:e012938. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012938