Herniated discs don’t always cause pain. However, when pressure is placed on nearby nerve roots, it can be an unwelcome distraction. Depending on what part of the spine is affected, pain can be felt in the neck, lower back, thighs, legs, shoulders, or arms. Exercise can strengthen muscles that support the spine, as long as it doesn’t involve movements likely to irritate nerves. Generally, you’ll want to avoid the following exercises if you have persistent pain from a herniated disc.
1. Leg Presses
Done with a machine where you press your legs against weights, leg presses can place too much pressure on the lower back, a common area affected by disc herniation. Presses also cause the pelvis to rotate away from your back, resulting in a lumbar flexion that may affect discs. Instead, opt for mid-range squats, but avoid deep squats.
Bending down to pick up weights and getting into position can make weightlifting bad for people with herniated discs. If you want to incorporate lifting into your routine, do it safely by:
- Avoiding forward bends
- Stretching or warming up before lifting
- Paying attention to form to prevent excessive jerking
- Doing slow, controlled movements
Running doesn’t usually cause discs to become damaged, but it can aggravate discs that are already pressing on nerve roots from stress extending from the feet up to the lower back, especially if the sciatic nerve is contributing to your pain. If running was a preferred exercise before your back pain developed, safely get back into it by:
- Opting for power walking or jogging until your back muscles strengthen
- Sticking to flat, even surfaces
- Wearing supportive shoes
4. Twisting Exercises
Exercises that require you to twist too much one way or the other could aggravate damaged spinal discs. Avoid abdominal exercises that involve twisting, those that require using a medicine ball, and certain yoga moves that involve excessive sideways rotations of the spine. However, since abs provide indirect support to the back, these muscles shouldn’t be ignored. Try these safer ab exercises:
- Leg lowers
- Bird dogs (performed on all fours by extending opposite arms and legs)
- Kneeling ab planks
- Swiss ball crunches (prevents pressure on the spine)
5. Straight Leg Exercises
Any exercises where the legs are kept straight can instantly put pressure on the spine. Even something as simple as bending down to do toe touches can instantly stress the back. Instead, opt for leg exercises that involve bending at the hips or knees, which distributes pressure more evenly to other joints. Safer leg exercises include:
- Leg curls from either a standing or seated machine, whichever one is more comfortable
- Hamstring stretches performed while resting on your back to prevent forward bending
- Forward or reverse lunges to safely work your glutes, legs, and calves
Low-impact aerobic activities like walking and biking also tend to be gentle enough not to place excessive pressure on the spine. Gentle stretches can also strengthen muscles and increase circulation to tissues around the spine. You may also benefit from water-based exercises since the natural buoyancy of water takes pressure off bones, joints, muscles, and discs. Check with your doctor for more recommendations specific to your disc problem, and see a spine specialist to determine if you might need ACDF surgery. Santa Monica residents can trust in Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute to help them find relief from a herniated disc.
From artificial disc replacement to decompression surgery, Santa Monica patients have many options for alleviating chronic neck and back pain. Reach out to The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757 to find out how we can help.