Here are my top 13 exercises that I test out with clients who are recovering from a lumbar herniated disc.
When I’m working with a client who is a good candidate for physical therapy and isn’t a surgical candidate it’s important to test out several different movements in order to see which one works best for you.
Disclaimer! None of these exercises as you are doing them, or, 24 hours after, should cause severe pain or discomfort.
If you do experience severe symptoms after one of these, remove the exercise from your next session and try a different one. The key is to find the right exercises that work for you. There is not a one size fits all solution to a herniated disc, or any lower back pain for that matter.
Stay patient, stay the course, and keep trying new things.
If you’re wondering about how painful a herniated disc is, you can read the article i’ve linked to in this sentence. And if you’re also a massage type of person you’ll want to read this article about whether or not massages can make disc herniations worse.
Exercises for Lumbar Herniated Discs
- Prone press up
The prone press up is a great exercise to help increase you’re spinal extension. For people who are flexion intolerant, this movement usually feels pretty good. Flexion intolerance of the spine means that you have a lot of pain when you bend forward through your spine.
Similar to the prone press up, the “cobra,” a popular yoga move, is the next, more intense progression.
Once people can comfortable do these exercise they are usually moving in the right direction and walking generally has gotten easier.
- Child’s pose
Child’s pose is a great exercise to perform (yes, even if you have a herniated disc), if you are unable to bend backwards, also known as extension intolerance.
- Seated chair flexion
This exercise is a good one to test out if you have trouble getting up and down off the floor. It’s the same premise as the child’s pose.
- Pelvic tilt
The pelvic tilt is a common, very basic exercise, that can be very useful in early stages of rehab as it allows you to control how much flexion and extension of the spine you go through. As all of the above and exercises to follow thi sone, you shouldn’t be pushing through severe pain.
The bird-dog exercise has gotten popular over the years as it’s a part of the “McGill Big 3.”
This is a great exercise that oftentimes feels pretty good and doesn’t flare symptoms up too much. There are ways to modify this exercise, too, if pain levels are too high when performing it.
- Seated spinal rotation (can also do this standing)
Very basic standing with rotation exercise and the first rotation exercise that we’ve gone through. Some people are sensitive to flexion and extension, so, adding in a rotational movement can sometimes be the one that provides a little relief.
- Box squat
With these next several exercises we are getting more into general strength training exercises that when completed with proper progression are a great way to rehab you back injury while also building up back and leg strength.
- Side plank
With the deadlift, start with light weight and then progress to heavier weight over time. Contrary to popular belief, deadlifting is a very safe activity that has numerous benefits when done consistently.
- Bent over row
Similar to the deadlift, start light to start out with and then work on progressing this over time. I like the bent-over row with anyone who has back pain as this works on building the endurance of the low back musculature.
- TRX row
Similar to the bent-over row, the trx row (which does require some specialty equipment) is a good way to build up mid-back strength.
The goodmorning exercise is another great way to build up the overall strength and endurance of your lower back musculature and is usually done with a neutral spine and slightly bent knees.
The Jefferson curl is popular among Olympic weightlifters and is a more advanced exercise when it comes to rehabbing a herniated disc. My goal with any of my clients who have a lumbar disc herniation is to get them to be able to do this over time without symptoms.
Once my client can do this exercise without symptoms I know that they can tolerate most new movements that I throw at them.
Walking. Yes, as simple as it sounds, walking can be a great exercise to do for disc herniation and any type of lower back pain.
It is true that some people with disc issues have trouble walking any distance and it makes it worse. In this case, I don’t recommend long-distance walking as a treatment strategy but rather breaking your walking down into smaller parts throughout the day. 100 steps here, 200 steps there, and then tally up your steps completed over the course of a day.
This is how I helped a client of mine go from 200 steps/day to over 7,000 steps per day. We started small, and steadily increased over time.
I hope that this article will help you in your recovery! If you still aren’t sure after reading this and trying these out or want to run by the issues you’re having past a professional, please fill out this consultation form and my team will get back to you within 24 hours. Thank you!