Video Series: Exercises for Herniated Disc

3 low back extension stretching exercises to help reduce herniated disc-related pain.

Herniated discs (also called bulging discs or slipped discs) are among the most common back and neck problems. Your spine specialist may recommend extension exercises—those that involve gently bending backward—to help you ease spinal disc pain. Three examples of extension stretches for herniated discs are described here: prone on elbows into press-up, upper back extension, and opposite arm and leg extension.

Watch the videos above to see the correct form for the exercises and refer to the written instructions below for additional details.

Prone on Elbows into Press-Up

Purpose: To reduce herniated disc pain and pressure.

How to perform a prone on elbows into press-up:

  1. Lay on your stomach with your hands pressed to the floor near your face.
  2. Use your hands to gently push yourself up until you’re resting on your forearms.
  3. To start, hold the position for 30 seconds.
  4. As the exercise becomes more comfortable, work up to holding the position for 3 to 5 minutes.

Ready to take on an advanced version? If you can hold the extension position for up to 5 minutes, try a full extended arms version of this exercise. While lowered to the ground, lift your arms and lock your elbows. Gently lower yourself to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
Woman performing "prone on elbows" exercise.Lying face down and gently pressing your body onto your elbows/forearms may help reduce back pain. Photo Source:

Upper Back Extension

Purpose: To strengthen and stabilize your low back muscles, which may help relieve pain associated with a lumbar herniated disc.

How to perform an upper back extension:

  1. Lay on your stomach, and place a small pillow or towel under your hips for support.
  2. Relax your arms at the sides of your body.
  3. As you gently lift your upper body off the floor, squeeze your low back muscles to activate them.
  4. Hold the lifted position for 3 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower down.
  6. Repeat the lift-and-lower series 10 times.

Woman assisted by a trainer with an upper back extensionUpper back extensions can help strengthen and stabilize the muscles in your low back. Photo Source:

Opposite Arm and Leg Extension

Purpose: To stabilize your spine, and strengthen the muscles in your low back, hamstrings, and glutes.

How to perform an opposite arm and leg extension:

  1. Lay on your stomach, and place a small pillow or towel under your abdomen for support.
  2. Reach both arms out in front of you.
  3. Squeeze your abdominal muscles as you simultaneously lift your right arm and left leg.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds, maintaining the contraction on your abdominal muscles.
  5. Slowly lower your leg and arm.
  6. Repeat on the other side—lifting your left arm and right leg. Hold for 3 seconds.
  7. Repeat each side 5 to 10 times.

Woman performing opposite arm leg extensionKeep your abdominal muscles contracted during opposite arm leg extensions. Photo Source:

How can these exercises relieve herniated disc pain?

These exercises focus on extending, or gently arching, your back because that position has been found to be helpful for people with herniated discs.

Gentle extension (ie, not arching so much that you’re doing a backbend like a gymnast) may help reduce pressure on your spinal discs. Extension exercises, like the 3 examples featured here, shift pressure from your discs to your facet joints, which are parts of your vertebrae that help your spine move. With the facet joints carrying more of the load in an extension position, you may find that you have less pain from your herniated disc.

What should I know before exercising with a herniated disc?

Before doing these herniated disc stretches, we urge you to follow these 3 important recommendations:

  1. Talk to your doctor first: The 3 herniated disc exercises described here are simple and created for a wide audience, but you should still seek your doctor’s consent before starting this or any other exercise or stretching program.
  1. Understand that exercise may look different with a herniated disc. Herniated discs can cause significant pain, and you may not be able to exercise the way you did before. Your physician, physical therapist, or other spine specialist will provide advice on safe activities to do and help you adjust your expectations within the context of your herniated disc symptoms.
  1. Take things slow and steady. Exercising and stretching are excellent ways to manage a herniated disc but pushing yourself too hard can aggravate spinal disc pain and cause further injury. Take things slow and listen to your body. If exercise causes an increase in pain or triggers other symptoms (like numbness or weakness), call your spine specialist immediately.

Staying active is among the most effective and enjoyable ways to achieve long-term relieve of a herniated (or bulging) disc. These 3 herniated disc exercises can easily be done at home and will help make a healthy addition to your daily routine.

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