Anyone who has had to deal with chronic back or neck pain can tell you just how hard it is to go about their daily lives. Many people will just break down and opt for back surgery which may or may not actually help them. However, many sufferers of chronic back pain can tell you that surgery doesn't have to be your only option.
I have lived with herniated disc pain for over a decade. During my ten years of back pain, I have managed to completely avoid surgery, pain medications, and other invasive treatment options. It has been miserable at times and I have even wanted to just throw my hands in the air and give up. But I've come to learn that through some very simple exercises and diet, long-term natural pain management is possible.
In this article, I will detail five forms of exercises that do wonders and others that caused my pain to intensify. Best of luck to you on your pain management journey.
1. Warm-Up Stretches
As with any exercise routine, you should always start by doing warm-up stretches.
- When you have a herniated disc in your lower back, be sure to not bend from the waist and twist at the same time. This is really bad for the disc and can cause unnecessary pain.
- If your disc problems are in your neck, be careful when turning your neck and try to not put too much strain on the disc.
The best warm-up stretch exercise I have found is this:
- Sit on a yoga mat with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Proceed to stretch out and try to touch your toes, keeping your upper back as straight as possible.
- Never allow yourself to overstretch or aggravate your injured discs.
- This stretch also helps bring more oxygen into your spine, which is crucial for healing and recovery.
Yoga is great for anybody, especially people with herniated discs. Yoga makes you more flexible, stronger, and more centered. Some positions will be difficult or impossible for someone with a herniated disc, but most are perfectly fine to do.
Do not jump into the most difficult positions when you first begin doing yoga. If you do, you will most likely get discouraged and give up altogether.
Try finding a local yoga instructor who is used to teaching pain management techniques. They can help teach you what positions you can do and help you in to do them without hurting yourself.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for people with herniated discs. Being in water takes the pressure off of your spine and muscles, allowing you to feel almost weightless and pain-free. Swimming allows you to work more muscles in the body than walking can.
Many physical therapists and physicians will actually recommend that water therapy before they recommend back surgery. Most insurances will cover it as long as your primary care physician has prescribed it.
If you see a physical therapist for water therapy, they will give you an assortment of pool exercises to do with them and, eventually, on your own. These will help you to build up muscles all over, but especially in your abdomen and back. Building up muscle in these two areas will help you to carry yourself with strength and keep your pain under control.
I love walking. I walk every day, sometimes twice. Walking helped me lose my pregnancy weight. It has also helped me stay sane throughout my journey with herniated discs.
When I go for a walk, I can relax and breathe, which is some of the best medicine when you're dealing with chronic pain.
Walking is such a wonderful exercise for people who suffer from herniated disc pain. It provides just enough cardio to stay healthy and delivers oxygen to the spine.
Walk as often as you like, or as many times as you think you can. Do not overexert yourself. Take baby steps. If you are worried about having problems when you walk, try to walk with a friend or family member. That a way, if you happen to fall or experience excruciating pain, someone is there to help you.
5. Back- and Core-Strengthening Exercises
Strengthening your back and your general core muscles are the key to living a long and happy life with herniated discs. If you are able to maintain proper muscle strength in those areas, you will relieve a major part of your back pain. Below are a few gentle back and core strengthening exercises.
- Curl-Ups Lie on your back with knees bent and pelvis tilted to flatten your back. Fold your arms across your chest. Slowly lift yourself up using just your core muscles. Don't lift yourself up too high, as you don't want to put too much strain on your back. Hold for roughly 5 seconds, or less if needed. You will slowly be able to do more of these, and hold them for longer, the more you do them.
- Planks Get down on your knees and forearms. Extend your legs so that your body is weighted against the toes of your shoes (or toes, if barefooted). Extend your arms out so that your fingers are spread while still resting on your forearms. This will take time to work up to.
- Pelvic Tilts Lie flat with your knees bent, feet flat, and arms by your sides. Inhale. With your exhale, tilt your pelvis. Hold for 3 seconds and release.
- Bridges Similar to pelvic tilts. Make a straight line from knees to shoulders and you try to hold this position for roughly 20 seconds. Raise your hips slightly off the ground. If you begin to sag, lower yourself and try again.
All of these should be performed in conjunction with the other exercises listed in this article on a regular basis.
Potentially Harmful Exercises for People with a Herniated Disc
Here's a list of a few exercises that I have found to cause more back and neck pain. Some were simply impossible for me to do with my herniated discs. Everybody is different, so some of you might be able to do these. Always consult your doctor before trying a new exercise.
- Full crunches and sit-ups
- Intense weight-training (minor weightlifting has proved to be okay for me)
- Ice skating
Stay Strong, Stay Healthy
Your best bet when dealing with herniated disc pain is to stay strong and to stay healthy. Keeping your body flexible and your muscles toned, eating healthy foods, and avoiding stress whenever possible will all go a very long way to help you manage disc pain.
Please Note: I am not a doctor. What I cover in this article is strictly information I have attained through my journey with herniated discs in my personal life. Anything I say in this article should not replace the advice and recommendations you obtain from your doctor. Always consult your doctor before trying new exercises.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do any specific foods or supplements help minimize pain in herniated discs?
Answer: The majority of studies I have seen encourage people with herniated discs to follow a low inflammation diet. This would include reducing red meats, caffeine, and other foods known to increase inflammation.
© 2012 Daniella Lopez
Thelma on March 17, 2019:
I listen to your story and it gave me courage to go and get that surgery . I had bulg disc / slip disc in my back I got 3 injection and it those help one bit I also go to physical Therpy don’t help I my pain is so bad . My last option is surgery but I am scare that it may not work and make my pain worse. I se where u said your doctor that did your surgery is very good and it help you where those Dr Jonathan Borden office is located .
hellen on June 24, 2015:
One finest way to maintain your health is to do yoga every day. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline which originated in India. There is a broad variety of schools, practices and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism and Jainism). In India they have now made compulsory to students in their curriculum.
Daniella Lopez (author) on September 18, 2012:
Thanks for reading!
robertdking on September 18, 2012:
Very useful article. Thanks!
Daniella Lopez (author) on August 18, 2012:
Thank you so much! Your comment is so sweet! I truly hope that this hub can help someone who is going through this. Thank you for reading and commenting. :)
Mohan Kumar from UK on August 18, 2012:
Really useful hub here Daniella- for someone who is not a trained professional your info and detail is really useful and you have done an outstanding job in recommending non-drug therapy here. Chronic back pain can be a frustrating torture to live with and your tips will be useful for many.
Daniella Lopez (author) on August 02, 2012:
Thanks for commenting! I'm glad to see a different side to this. I'm also glad that the surgeries have helped you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm not against surgery by any means. I just know what has worked well for me. However, I am only 22 and am a new mother. For me, losing some mobility and not being able to lift much (my 20lb son), would not work well for my lifestyle at the moment. Again, thanks for reading and commenting!
strkngfang on August 02, 2012:
Very nice hub. I've had 3 spinal surgeries, two with fusions so I know all about back problems. My surgeries were all necessary to stabilize a failing spine. I had multi level degeneration & stenosis. I went through physical therapy before and after, steroid pills & injections, acupuncture, electronic muscle stimulation and disc decompressions and nothing helped. The surgeries did wonders for me and I can do anything now, within reason. Sadly I was retired early by the county meter reading job I held for many years because of fear for my safety. I can only do minimal bending & twisting & only light weight lifting.
I have one of the best neurosurgeons in the U.S. in Dr. Jonathan Borden and I think that makes all the difference. I wasn't a big surgery fan but I favor getting fixed over just "getting by". I try to stay active, a lot of walking and the pain & leg numbness was hindering that greatly. My fusions are at L2-3 & L4-5 so I'm hoping my few discs left will behave themselves :)