Oftentimes, herniated discs are painful. However, this isn’t always the case. The distracting discomfort felt as a result of a herniated disc most frequently occurs when pressure is placed on a nearby nerve. Though herniated discstypically occur in or around the lower back, it’s possible to have one anywhere along the spine, and the affected area determines where you’re likely to experience pain. In many instances, a herniated disc may require spine surgery. Santa Monica residents living with back or neck pain can still do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the spine, but it’s important to avoid making movements that are likely to irritate the affected nerves. If you have a herniated disc, you’ll probably want to skip the following five exercises.
1. Leg Presses
If your herniated disc is in your lower back, you’ll definitely want to avoid doing leg presses. To perform leg presses, you must use a machine that causes you to press your legs against weights, and this can put a great deal of pressure on the lower back area. This exercise also forces the pelvis to rotate away from the back, which causes a lumbar flexion that could affect the herniated area. A better exercise to attempt for similar benefits is mid-range squatting. However, it’s a good idea to avoid deep squats.
2. Lifting Weights
One of the worst positions to force your body into if you have a herniated disc is the type of bending required to lift heavy weights. However, it’s possible to lift weights safely even if you have a herniated disc. Try the following methods:
- Avoid bending forward
- Warm up or stretch before you lift
- Pay close attention to your form to prevent excessive jerking
- Perform slow, controlled movements
It’s unlikely you’ll further damage your discs by running, but you may aggravate them if the stress extending from the feet up to the lower back presses on the nerve roots. This situation is even more likely if the sciatic nerve is a major contributor to your pain. If running was one of your main forms of exercises before the herniated disc, use the following tips to ease back into the activity safely:
- Try jogging or power walking until you strengthen your back muscles
- Only run on flat, even surfaces
- Wear supportive shoes
If you’re having to twist too much to perform a particular exercise, you’re at risk of aggravating your damaged disc. These types of exercises include using a medicine ball, yoga positions that require you to perform excessive sideways rotations of your spine, and certain abdominal exercises. But your abs do provide support to your back, so it’s still important to include them in your workouts. Here are a few ab exercises that are safer to perform while managing a herniated disc:
- Leg lowers
- Bird dogs
- Kneeling ab planks
- Swiss ball crunches
5. Straight Leg Exercises
When performing exercises that require you to keep your legs straight, you’re likely to put unwanted pressure on your spine, and this includes doing simple toe touches. A better option is to do exercises that require bending at the knees or hips, because these types of activities distribute pressure more evenly to your other joints. Here are a few leg exercises that are safer to try:
- Leg curls—Use either a seated or standing or machine, depending on which is more comfortable
- Hamstring stretches—Rest on your back to avoid bending forward
- Reverse or forward lunges—Work your glutes, legs, and calves safely
You can also try gentle aerobic exercises like biking and walking, as you’re less likely to place excessive pressure on the area where your herniated disc is located. Another option is strengthening the muscles and increasing circulation to the tissues around the spine by performing gentle stretches. Due to the buoyancy of water, there are a variety of water exercises you can safely do.
For more safe exercise recommendations, ask your doctor. You may also want to see a trusted spine surgeon to find out if you need a minimally invasive procedure such as ACDF surgery. Santa Monica patients living with herniated disc-related pain should reach out to Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute to help them find the relief they need and deserve. Call 310-828-7757 today.