Jun 22, 2021
Many people suffer from acute or chronic back pain. Herniated discs are one of the most common causes of back pain. People between the ages of 25 - 55 are prime candidates for a herniated disc, with men about twice as likely to have a herniated disc than women. But just what is a herniated disc?
In between each of the bones (i.e., vertebrae) that make up the spine is a rubbery cushion called a disc. It has a soft, gel-like center surrounded by a tough, rubbery exterior. A herniated disc occurs when some of the soft, gel-like centers push through the hard exterior. Because many nerves pass through the spine, this disruption in the disc will often cause pain, numbness, or weakness in a part of the body where the nerve was going to or coming from.
Herniated Disc Stretches
One of the best treatments for the symptoms of a herniated disc is stretching exercises.
By gently stretching the muscles in the back, their flexibility is improved, helping them stabilize the disc herniation area.
Overall endurance and circulation are also improved with herniated disc exercises, and symptoms improve. Which exercises are best depends, in part, on the area of the spine where the herniation occurs.
Lower Back Herniated Disc Exercises
In the 25 - 55 year old age group, back pain with disc herniation occurs in the lower back (i.e., lumbar spine) about 95% of the time. Specific herniated disc stretches are often the most important part of any treatment and pain reduction plan. It is important to remember that just like with any other exercise, doing warm-ups is very important, and do not push yourself if there is significant pain. This is the body’s way of saying, “Don’t do that!” For lower back herniated disc exercises, try:
● Partial Crunches with Bent Knees - strengthen back and stomach muscles
● Hamstring Stretches - gently stretches and strengthens leg muscles and lower back muscles
● Wall Sits - slowly strengthen your stomach, back, and leg muscles
● Press-up Back Extensions - done lying on your stomach, supports the back while exercising the muscles
● Bird Dog - helps stabilize the lower back
● Knee to Chest - this exercise is done lying on your back, so your stomach muscles are gently stretched
● Pelvic Tilts - your back is supported on the floor while you gently stretch the hip muscles
● Bridging - this exercise can be a little too much for beginners or those not doing it properly
● Swimming - the water helps to cushion and support your entire body while you gently exercise
Some of these exercises are best at the beginning of the treatment as they are gentler such as swimming, partial crunches, or press-up back extensions. These exercises can be tailored easily to be very gentle or more challenging so controlling the intensity is much easier. As the pain lessens and the back heals, some of the more intense exercises can be tried, such as wall sits and bird dog.
Neck & Upper Back Herniated Disc Exercises
While aging is a common factor in herniated discs of the neck and upper back, even younger people will often have a herniation in these areas. The symptoms often include the same pain, numbness, and tingling felt with herniation in the lower back. Still, the symptoms occur in the arms, hands, or shoulder and problems with balance, walking, and overall coordination. The causes of herniation are the same no matter where along the spine the gel-like center comes through the hard shell of a disc.
Just as with lower back herniation, upper back and neck herniations can often be improved by performing the right exercises and avoiding anything that causes significant pain. The most common types of neck herniated disc exercises include:
● Neck Stretches - these should be done as gently as possible, especially at the beginning
● Chin Tucks - also a gentle exercise that will strengthen neck muscles
● Upper Trapezius Stretch - helps lessen pain in the neck and strengthen muscles
● One-Arm Pec Stretch - stretches the chest area and strengthens chest muscles
● Scapular Retraction - uses a band to help provide resistance when you stretch your arms straight out to the sides
● Shoulder Rolls - these also help build muscles that stabilize the neck
Pain with a herniated disc in the upper back and not the neck has its own set of recommended upper back herniated disc exercises. These include:
● Sit-Ups - these exercises use the upper back more than people realize
● Push-Ups - too much strain on the neck and upper back with a typical push-up will worsen the pain
● Leg Raises - just like sit-ups, this exercise puts too much pressure on the upper back and neck
● Bicycling - the typical posture required to ride a bicycle is not good for the upper back; a straight posture is best for avoiding and treating herniated discs
● Chair Rotation - while sitting in a chair, gently turn from side to side to strengthen the muscles in your upper back
Herniated Disc Exercises to Avoid
Some exercises that might seem helpful are best avoided. However, the body is often the best indicator. If it hurts, stop and do not do it again. Pain that is significantly worse when doing any activity is never a sign of a healing exercise. Some herniated disc exercises to avoid include:
● Toe Touches - too much stress on the spine and herniated disc
● Sit-Ups - too much pressure is often put on the spine and hip muscles
● Leg Lifts - these often worsen lower back pain
● Lifting Over the Head - whether weights or boxes, these movements require a stable spine
These exercises tend to put too much pressure on the lower back, which will prevent healing and may make injuries worse.
Treatment for A Herniated Disc
Herniated discs are a common occurrence in younger and older adults. While the age group with the most frequent herniated discs are 25 - 55, older adults who suffer from changes with aging (e.g., arthritis) can often benefit from these same exercise programs. In most cases, performing proper herniated disc exercises on a regular schedule will solve the problem, improve the symptoms, or at the very least prevent the worsening of the situation.
However, even a regular herniated disc exercise program is sometimes not enough. If you are unsure of the origin of your pain, the types of exercises to do, or you just need some professional advice, calling The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey is your best move. They have specialists that can help with everything from diagnosis to treatment, including physical therapy regimens and more invasive treatments like surgery if necessary.
Suppose the pain is severe, worsening, limiting your ability to do routine tasks like bathing and dressing, causing problems with balance or coordination, or lasting for more than a few weeks, especially while doing the herniated disc exercise. In that case, it is time to see one of the specialists at The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey. We have locations throughout New Jersey. For herniated disc and spine treatment, find an OINJ doctor near you.