What is a herniated disc?
Intervertebral discs cushion and separate each vertebrae along the spine. The intervertebral disc is composed of two layers. One layer is jelly-like called the nucleus pilosus, and the other is fibrous called the annulus fibrosus.
These intervertebral discs allow the vertebrae to move in the spine smoothly without any contact with bone-on-bone. When the outer layer is weaker than the inner layer, a herniated disc can occur. The outer layer is weakened and the jelly-like inner layer of the intervertebral disc leaks through. There is no cushion between the vertebrae. This can lead to severe pain and inflammation.
The lumbar spine is the most common place for a herniated disc, especially between the L4-L5 vertebrae. This region is lower than the rest of the lumbar spine, and it may be more flexible than the other vertebrae. This makes it more vulnerable to injury and deterioration than the other more flexible regions of the spine.
What causes disc herniation
Two main causes of herniated discs are normal spinal aging and injury. These two factors can be exacerbated by a variety of risk factors including:
Patients may be diagnosed with bulging discs and are curious about the differences between a herniated or herniated disc. A herniated disc and a bulging disc are two different things. One, a herniated disc has actually broken open and released intervertebral liquid. As we age, a bulging disc is quite common. The intervertebral disc bulges between vertebrae, but it retains its integrity (and a jelly-like fluid).
However, a bulging disc can cause pain similar to a herniated one. A bulging disc can cause pain, tingling and pins and needles sensations as well as tingling and pins and needles sensations. It is possible to treat a bulging disc if it is detected early enough that it does not worsen or become a herniated disc.
Should I try exercises for a herniated disc?
The short answer to your question about whether you should do herniated disc exercises, is no. This is unless you talk with your doctor first. You may be recommended to work with a physical therapist, who will guide you and ensure that you are treating your condition well. After you have received your all clear, here are safe exercises for herniated discs and four exercises to avoid.
Safer exercises for disc herniation
Stretch the long muscles in your hamstrings for a herniated disc. Also, you can stretch your hips to alleviate any sciatic pain.
Seated hamstring stretch (with the aid of a chair)
Place one leg on the ground and place the other in front of your chair. Place one leg on the ground, and the other on the opposite chair. As you sit up straight, extend your neck to the sky and exhale to allow your hips to hinge. Then, fold your leg forward to cover your extended leg.
Do not go too far without being careful (which may not be very far). Instead of bringing your head forward, think about bringing your chin lower. You should hold the stretch for between 15 and 30 seconds. Then, exhale. Switch sides. Switch sides at least three times per day.
Place your hands on the ground and lie on your back. One knee bent, one in front of you. Wrap a towel or belt around your ankle. Straighten your leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep both feet flexed. Keep your feet together for between 15 and 30 seconds. Then, release the foot and switch sides. Continue with the opposite leg. This stretch can be done two to three times per day.
If you find it difficult to hold your leg straight up while in the towel, this is an option. Place your feet on the ground, near a corner of a door jamb or wall. Place one leg straightening the other, and the bent knee on the wall. Slowly raise the bent leg towards the wall, until you feel the stretch. For 15-30 seconds, hold the position and then switch sides.
Stretch for a seated
This is a great exercise to do while seated. Place your feet directly below your knees and sit up straight. Place your right foot on your left knee. Your right hip may feel stretched. To feel a stretch in your right hip, press your right knee toward the ground and hunch forward. For 30 seconds, hold the position and then switch to the other side.
To allow gravity to work for your benefit, lie down. Place your feet on the ground. Place both your feet on the ground by bending your knees. Place your right foot on the ground and lift your right leg off the ground. Your right knee should be pressed towards you. You can stretch your right knee further by placing your hands behind your left leg. For 30 seconds, hold the position and breathe deeply. Then release and switch to the opposite side.
At the wall
Place your back against the wall, with both of your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground in front. Place your right foot on the ground and lift your right leg off the floor. Your right knee should be pressed towards you. For more stretch, move your left foot towards you. For 30 seconds, hold the position and breathe deeply. Then, release and switch to the opposite side.
You can do this from a doorway, or from a branch of a tree or jungle gym in the park. Grab a safe spot to hang, then let your body hang. Your lower body’s weight will make space for the vertebrae. Continue holding for as long and then repeat the process three more times. You can also decompress your spine by lying on your back, with your head down, on a sloped surface.
Place your hands at your mid-chest, with your arms bent. As you take a deep inhale, visualize your crown reaching forward as you lift your shoulders off the ground. Then, roll your shoulders back onto your back, and gently press your hands into your hands.
Begin with a low cobra and only raise as high as your hand can without pressing against your hands. Gradually, you will move to full cobra with your elbows hugging into the body. You can hold this for up to 15 seconds. Or, you can use it as a strengthening exercise, slowly increasing your inhale speed and decreasing your exhale.
Place your hands under your shoulders, your knees below your hips and your hands on the tabletop. Take a deep inhale and allow your navel to move towards the ground. Allow your tailbone to lift, your heart to reach forward, as well as your gaze to lift (arch the lower back).
Inhale, round in and drop your tailbone, rounding into the lower, middle, and upper back. Allow your breath to begin the movement by completing five rounds.
Start again on a neutral tabletop, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Take a deep inhale and extend your right leg, keeping your toes on ground. Keep your left hand facing forward. Press your navel towards your spine to engage your core. Keep it there throughout the exercise. Lift the back leg, with the toes facing down. This will create a straight line from the fingers to the heel.
You can also strengthen your body by bending your elbows and knees on an exhale. Next, bring them under the body and inhale to straighten. You can repeat this movement up to three times or for just five breaths. Repeat the movement on the opposite side.
You can plank with your forearms down, or extended arms (as in a high push up). Whatever you do, make sure your hips are in line with the heels. Press your navel towards your spine while extending the crown of your head forward. Continue to hold for 30 seconds before gradually increasing your time to two minutes.
Supported side plank
Start again on a neutral tabletop with your hands under your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Your left foot should be positioned so that it forms an upright position behind you. Then, extend your right leg straight ahead.
Take a deep breath and extend your body by inhaling. Either place your right hand on your hip or extend your arm to the heavens. Either straighten your legs and balance on your sides, or you can keep one leg steady to support your weight and balance. To keep your shoulders in line with your back, roll your shoulders back. Engage your navel and spine. Hold the position for five deep breaths.
The pose of a child
Between side planks, a child’s pose can be great. Bring your hands to your knees and then lower your hips towards the ground. Place a block or a support under your hips if your knees are hurting. Support your forehead with a block or one fist, if it isn’t touching the ground.
Exercises that are low-impact and can be done throughout the body
Walking, biking, or swimming are low-impact aerobic exercises that can help improve your health and strengthen your back. Begin with ten minutes per day, or as prescribed by your doctor. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise as you feel comfortable.
Avoid These herniated disc exercises
These movements can make a herniated disc more painful and should be avoided.
- Sit-ups are a great way to put pressure on your lower back.
- Leg lifts: A lot of people lift their legs using their lower backs, rather than the core. This can lead to further injury or muscle strain.
- Unsupported forward bends are extremely painful and place strain on already injured ligaments.
- High-impact exercise: Running or other high-impact exercise can further compress your vertebrae. You can take a break from high impact activities while you heal.
How to Lift Weights After a Herniated Disc
You can improve your herniated disc by exercising! It’s not just a good idea to exercise, but it is essential for your back. Spinal stabilization exercises are more beneficial than any exercise program. Your feelings and the time it has been since you injured your back will affect which exercises you do.
Before you go to exercise, control your pain. You should try to reduce the pain you feel before you start exercising. Lightly extending your back can help to position discs anteriorly for most people who have herniated discs. To relieve your pain, try lying on your elbows. This is similar to the sphinx pose of yoga. Relax and breathe normally. You can also straighten your arms to the prone press up position if you feel it is comfortable.
Consider modalities such as electrical stimulation at this point. Keep your pain under control and blood flowing with light movements. Light activity can help speed up your recovery as it can accelerate the healing process. However, it is important to not push yourself too hard. The opposite effect of heavy loads has been demonstrated, decreasing blood flow to the spine and possibly impairing the ability to synthesize proteoglycans, which are critical for normal disc function.