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Lower Back Pain and Disc Bulges - The 8 Best Exercises

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

A disk bulge or herniated disc occurs when some of the soft jelly in the centre of the disc slips out past the tough exterior.

Up to 80% of individuals will suffer from an episode of back pain during their lifetime, currently Low back pain accounts for 11% of the total disability of the UK population and disc bulges/herniation is frequently the underlying cause. The highest prevalence of disc bulges is among people aged 30-50, with a male to female ratio of 2:1. In people aged 25-55 years, 95% of disc bulges occur at the lower levels of the lumbar spine, disc bulges from mid to upper lumber spine are more common in those over the age of 55. Disc bulges are most common in the lower back (Lumbar region) but can occur anywhere from the neck to the low back.

Herniated disc - causing low back pain

Symptoms of a disc bulge/herniation:

  • Low Back Pain

  • Leg Numbness or Tingling

  • Leg Pain

  • Weakness in the Legs

  • Loss of Bowel or Bladder control (Rare and Urgent Medical Attention is Required)

Stages of Disc bulge affecting low back pain

4 Stages of Disc Bulge:

  1. Disc protrusion

  2. Prolapsed Disc

  3. Disc Extrusion

  4. Sequestered Disc

How can exercise help?

Exercise and Physical Therapy ( Osteopaths/Physiotherapy) are often the most important parts of recovery from a herniated disc.

Doing gentle activities and exercises will strengthen the muscles that support the spine and reduce pressure on the spinal column. They will also promote flexibility in the spine and may help reduce the risk of a herniated disc from reoccurring.

Gentle activities that can help are;

  • Pilates

  • Yoga

  • Swimming

  • Walking

  • Cycling

Perform all exercises in a slow and controlled manner, especially when bending or lifting. If a person feels pain, they should stop doing the exercises and speak with your Osteopath.

How Long Does the Pain Last?

Most patients with a lumbar disc bulge/herniation will gradually improve over a period of days to weeks after the flair up, with most patients being symptom free within 3-4 months.

8 Best Exercises for Disc Bulges (Prevention and Rehabilitation)

1. Spinal Decompression:

- Use a bar or anything you can hang from, and just allow your body to "Hang".

- Hang for 30 seconds and do 3 sets.

- If you feel worse doing this exercise technique, stop and try some of the other exercises.

Spinal Decompression to reduce low back pain

2.Cobra Stretch

- Begin the exercise by lying on your stomach and slowly prop yourself on your elbows while keeping your hips in contact with the floor.

- Hold this position for 10-15 seconds before returning to the prone position (laying face down).

-Gradually increase to holding the end position for 30 seconds and perform up to 10 reps for this stretch.

-To progress further try going up onto your hands instead of your elbows.

Cobra stretch to help with low back pain

3.Cat-Cow (Camel) Stretch

- Begin this stretch on your hands and knees. Inhale and let your stomach "drop" towards the floor as you look up towards the ceiling.

-Follow this by exhaling and slowly rounding your spine while pressing into the floor with your hands and slightly curving your neck to look at your feet.

-Aim for 10 reps x 2-3 sets.

cat cow stretched to help with low back pain

4. Bird Dog Stretch

- Begin on your hand and knee with your hands positioned under your shoulders and knee positioned under your hips.

-Raise your left arm and reach it forward until it is aligned with your torso; at the same time, kick your right leg backwards until it is aligned with your torso.

-Hold This position for 2-3 seconds before slowly returning to the start position.

-Repeat with your right arm and left leg.

-Alternate side for 10 reps x 2-3 sets.

*Ensure head, neck and back maintain a neutral alignment to minimise stress on your neck*

bird dog stretch to help with low back pain

5. Plank

- Begin by lying on your stomach with your forearms against the mat.

- Engage your core and left your body so that you are resting on your forearms and toes.

- Hold the plank position for 20-30 (If possible, aim for a minimum of 10 seconds).

- Aim for 5-10 reps

When your ready, increase the intensity by increasing the time you hold the plank in 10 second increments.

Plank - helps with core strength to reduce low back pain

6. Knee Hugs

-Lie on your back with your knees bent and both heels on the floor.

- Place both hands behind one knee and pull towards the chest.

- Switch legs and repeat 5 reps on each leg.

Knee hug - releasing pressure on low back - helping low back pain

7. Back Flexion

- Lie on your back and hold both knees towards your chest.

- At he same time, move your head forward until there is a comfortable stretch across the mid and low back.

- Repeat 5 reps

Back Flexion - for low back pain and stretching

8. Piriformis Stretch

- Lie on your back with your knees bent and both heels on the floor.

- Cross one leg over the other, resting the ankle on the bent knee.

- Gently pull the crossed knee towards the chest until there is a stretch in the buttock, hold for 10-15 seconds.

- Repeat on both sides for 3 rounds.

Piriformis stretch for low back pain

Whilst you are trying to lower your pain levels and strengthen your back try ice and heat therapy to help reduce inflammation and allow your muscles to relax.

These two items are what we recommend to our patients

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