Herniated Disc

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Exercises for People with a Herniating Disc

herniated disc

If you’re suffering from a herniated or a bulging disc, one of the questions you might be wondering about is:

what are some safe exercises?

Well, the truth is that – other than the few very obvious ones –  it’s very difficult to tell for sure, but this post will help you figure that out.


Understanding the Disc Herniation

The pressure that causes a disc to herniate in the first place is primarily due to too much compression on the spine. The vertebrae are compressing the disc – which typically is a very uneven compression (so one side of the spine is tighter than the other and so the discs are being squished on one side). And then there is also a torsion or rotation of the spine that is not supposed to be there. This is all caused by muscles pulling your spine out of alignment, twisting your body, arching your back too much etc.



What Happens if You Do the Wrong Exercises?

If you’re doing the wrong exercise it could be making your already tight muscles tighter and exacerbate the strain on your spine and worsen your herniating disc. And it is very difficult to heal a herniated or bulging disc while that pressure is still there.

These are some movements you should try to AVOID:

1. Bending over to lift very heavy items:

This is especially true if your injury is located in the lower back. If you bend over, always make sure you don’t round your lower back. This would put additional pressure on your lumbar vertebrae, and if you are lifting a heavy object on top of that, this could be fatal for your discs.

2. Running:

If your disc herniation is still acute, running is not always recommended, since it can place strain on the discs. Again, it has to be said that each injury is different, so each body can react differently to running. Be aware of the signs your body is giving you and ask your doctor if and when running would be ok for you.

3. Performing squats with too much weight:

Again, the pressure from the additional load could be too much for your spine and cause the intervertebral discs to get squished even more. 

4. Performing low back extensions:

They may put too much stress on the spine and cause it to further deteriorate.

5. Any form of resistence training:

Any movements that bring additional stress to the spine should be avoided.

6. Any type of forward bending with stretched legs:

Whether it’s sitting or standing, always make sure your back is completely straight when doing forward bends. In most cases, this means bending the knees a little bit. This relaxes the hamstrings and takes away pressure from your lower back. While doing forward bends, make sure your torso touches you thighs and always keep your awareness to the lengthening of your back.



Which Exercises are OK Then?

There are a variety of exercises that are safe, but the only way to know what exercises are going to be best for you to do is by finding out what exactly your condition is. Every single person with a herniated disc has a distinct situation. Use all information and help from experts you can get to find out about your posture, which specific muscles are tight in your body, and which are too weak.

That being said, there are a variety of exercises that are regarded as being beneficial for back pain. This link will lead to some pictures (it’s a facebook album, so it might only work for fb users) of such exercises that are regarded as generally safe and helpful for people with back pain. Pick the stretches that will help you lengthen muscles which are too short and strengthening exercises which focus on your weak muscles.

Some Exercises For Lower Back Pain

These exercises are especially helpful if you want relief from lumbar pain or sciatica. Be aware that not all exercises work the same for everybody and take into account the precautions.

1. The Cat Stretch (or Cat and Cow Pose):

Cat and CowThe cat stretch is a great way to relieve back & neck tension and relax the spine. This is how it works:

Start with your hands and knees on the floor and make sure your knees are under your hips, and your wrists are under your shoulders. Take a deep inhale.

On the exhale, round your spine up towards the ceiling and tighten your abs. Let your chin fall towards your chest and relax your neck.

On your next inhale, arch your back and let your stomach relax. Look up and raise your tailbone up towards the ceiling.

Repeat as many times as it feels comfortable.

2. The Cobra Pose:

Cobra Pose

This stretch can offer pain relief from sciatica and helps strengthen, lengthen, and relax your spine. How to do the cobra:

Start on your stomach with the back of your feet flat on the floor and forehead resting on the ground.

Place your palms under your shoulders, keeping your elbows parallel and close to your upper body.

While deeply inhaling, slowly lift your head, chest and abdomen.

Pull your torso back and off the floor with the support of your hands.

Hold this position for anywhere between a few seconds and up to one minute. Repeat a few times as long as it feels comfortable.

 3. The Bridge Pose:

Bridge Pose

This pose helps relieve back pain and opens your heart and hips. How to do the bridge pose:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip disctance apart.

While inhaling, tuck your tailbone in, press down with your feet and raise your hips towars the ceiling.

Interlace your fingers while keeping your arms and hands on the floor. Press your shoulders down and lift your ribs up. Stay in this position as you continue to breathe for 30 seconds.

Release your hands, relax your shoulders and roll down slowly. Repeat two more times.




4. Child’s Pose:

Child's Pose

Child’s pose is a restful and healing position for your back which can be also used as a counterpose to any exercise that requires backbends.

To get into the child’s pose:

Kneel down with your toes touching and your knees about hip distance apart.

Sit down on your heels and slowly fold your upper body towards your thighs. Lengthen the back of your neck before resting your forehead on the floor.

Lay your hands on the floor palms up alongside your torso and relax your shoulders toward the floor.

Stay in this position anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 minutes and breathe deeply. Feel how your body relaxes more and more during each exhalation.

This pose can also be used as just a deep forward bend for beginners who require stretching and lengthening of their back and hips.

5. The Bow Pose:

PicsArt_1402338402409As long as your back problems are not serious, the bow pose is a great exercise to simultaneously strengthen your back muscles, open the chest and stretch the entire front side of your body. 

How to do the bow pose:

Lie on the floor with your stomach facing down.

Bend your knees and grab your ankles with both hands.

With an inhale, lift your chest and knees off the ground and pull your feet backwards. At the same time, press your hips and lower stomach ino the ground.

Hold the pose as long as it feels comfortable and don’t forget to breathe. Release and relax. Repeat if you feel like it.


Infograph pictures courtesy of www.massagenerd.com.

Questions and Answers on Exercising With HD

These are some interesting conversations embedded from our facebook page, which are related to exercising with disc herniations. You can participate in the discussions or ask your own questions in the comments area below.



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How to Deal With a Herniated Disc

herniated disc

In order to explain what you can do when you have a herniating disc we first need to understand what it is and how it occurs.

In simple terms, a herniated disc occurs when there is an unequal pressure on the small cussion (the disc) that is located between each two back bones of the spine (the vertebrae).

This pressure sometimes causes the jelly-like inner material to erupt out of the disc shell. This material can then touch a spinal nerve, which may cause pain.

Common Causes of Herniated Discs

Two of the most common causes of a herniated disc are wear and tear of the disc (degeneration) as well as spinal injuries.

At the same time, research indicates that very often the original underlying cause of a disc herniation is a poor posture which often goes hand in hand with unbalanced muscles. Several studies have shown a significant association between lower back pain and weak/imbalanced muscles (detailed results of these studies have been published by the International College of Applied Kinesiology and can be accessed – here). 



So even though your herniation might have appeared suddenly, in many cases there is a long story to how it started. And research shows that many of these stories are connected to posture dysfunctions, spinal misalignments and imbalanced muscles.

What are muscle imbalances and postural dysfunctions? In simple terms, a muscle imbalance occurs when you have overdeveloped and tight muscles in one area of your body while the opposing muscles are weak and stretched out of their normal position. These imbalances can happen anywhere on the body and often develop as the result of the routine things you do while on the job, playing sports, or engaging in other activities you enjoy.

Herniating or bulging discs are often the result of unequal pressure on the disc (the cushion located between each two vertebrae or backbones). Unequal pressure as a result of muscle imbalances and wrong postures provoke the less-pressured side to bulge or rupture, forcing the jellylike interior over the fibrous membrane straight into the spinal column.

Common Treatments for Herniated Discs

Research shows that most of the tim es, a combination of different treatments is the key. The SPORT trial (Spine Patient Outcome Research Trial) concluded that herniated disc patients who received non-surgical treatments like education/counseling, anti-inflammatories, injections (eg, epidural steroids), active physical therapy showed similar results over the 2-year trial period to patients who received surgery.



So the best thing you can do is inform yourself about the newest research, find out what works for others, and try experimenting yourself. At the same time, try to find the best experts you can regarding the subject.

Other studies have emphasised the effectiveness of spinal decompression followed by extensive spinal stabilization exercises, posture care, ergonomics and assistive devices. Decompression removes the unequal pressure on your spine caused by the imbalance, which in turn helps easing the pain caused by the herniation. Probably the most valuable tool for obtaining this result is through an inversion table, which uses gravity to carefully relieve pressure. Over time, this negative pressure helps the spine return to the healthier posture on it’s own. 

There are many more treatment possibilities to reduce the pain caused by a herniation or bulge, which can and should also be part of the actual healing process if used correctly. Here are some informative articles on such treatment options:

Lifestyle Changes for the Long Term

After you will have relieved the initial pain you might still have to handle the original cause of compression, which in many cases are muscle imbalances and posture dysfunctions. Each person has their own individual condition which has to be understood. Using all the information you can get, educate yourself about your condition. Get several different consultations by professionals to help you figure out if and how your posture is dysfunctional.

As you can guess, in the long term you’ll have to make some serious lifestyle changes in order to really treat the root problem by strengthening the right muscles and improving your posture. There is no doubt that these radical lifestyle changes will involve exercising regularly (here is a helpful article on exercising with a herniated disc). By minimizing the pressure to the damaged disc and fixing the actual muscle imbalances you will slowly go significantly in direction of treating the condition. And remember, you simply cannot ignore all other causes.


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Herniated Discs & Depression

herniated disc

Does your disc herniation make you feel sad and depressed? As with any type of pain, chronic back pain can become quite complex and start affecting the psyche sooner or later.

This article is mainly reflection of the messages and comments by many of our followers related to the impact their disc issues have on their mental health and balance.

Sharing your feelings with people who listen and empathize can be a tremendous help. At the bottom of this page you’ll find some discussions about depression related to herniated discs. Feel free to participate or starting your own discussion in the comments section below.

What are the Most Common Factors for Feeling Down?

1. The Pain

The most important and direct factor that can lead to frustrations and depression seems to be the pain itself, which often results from the disc herniation.

“How do people go on everyday with this much pain? I also have a high pain tolerance, this is unbearable. ” ~Stella

Read more


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