5 Exercises for Herniated Discs

Updated on July 25, 2017
Daniella Lopez profile image

Danielle Lopez is a published author, freelance health and medical writer, biochemistry student, and certified doula.

Comparison of a healthy disc with a herniated disc.
Comparison of a healthy disc with a herniated disc. | Source

Pain Management

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, dealing with the excruciating pain. Many people will just break down and opt for back surgery that may or may not actually help them. However, I can tell you that surgery doesn't have to be your only option.

I have lived with herniated disc pain for over a decade. I have never had any kind of back surgery and I have even had two children completely naturally while also dealing with herniated discs. 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 pain management is possible.

In this article I will show you five forms of exercises that I have found to do wonders for my back pain. I will also show you which ones caused my pain to intensify. Good luck to you on your pain management journey.

Warm-up Stretches

Like with any exercise routine, you should always start by doing warm up stretches. Be careful when doing stretches with a herniated disc; turning the wrong way can cause intense pain.

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 the 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 to sit on a yoga mat, with my legs extended out in front of me. Then, proceed to stretch out and try to touch my toes, keeping my upper back as straight as possible. I never allow myself to over stretch or cause any aggravation to my injured discs. This stretch also helps your spine to gain more oxygen through it; oxygen being crucial for healing and recovery.

Daily yoga can keep your core strong and your body flexible.
Daily yoga can keep your core strong and your body flexible. | Source


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 in to the most difficult positions when you first begin doing yoga. If you do, you will most likely not do well, get discouraged, and give up on yoga all together. Try finding a local yoga instructor who is used to teaching pain management yoga techniques. They can help teach you what positions you can do and help you in doing them.


Swimming is one of the best exercises for people with herniated discs. The water takes the pressure off of your spine and muscles, allowing for you to feel almost weightless and pain free. The swimming allows you to work more muscles in the body than walking can.

Many therapists and physicians will actually recommend that you try water therapy before going through back surgery. Most insurances will cover for you to go through water therapy so long as your primary care physician has prescribed it.

If you see a therapist for water therapy, they will give you an assortment of pool exercises to do with them and eventually for you to do on your own. These will help you to build up muscle everywhere, but especially in your abdomen and back. Building up muscle in these two spots will help you to carry yourself better and help to keep your pain under control.

Going for a walk is one of the best exercises you can do for your back!
Going for a walk is one of the best exercises you can do for your back! | Source


I love walking. I walk everyday, sometimes twice a day. Walking helped me loss 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 breath, which is near impossible when you have an infant around.

Walking is such a wonderful exercise for people who suffer with herniated disc pain. It keeps them healthy, provides just enough cardio, and helps to provide 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 come under excruciating pain, someone is there to help you.

Back & Core-Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening your back and your general core muscles is the key to living a long and happy life with herniated discs. If you are able to maintain proper muscle strength in those areas, a large majority of your back pain will be relieved. Below are a few gentle back and core strengthening exercises.

  • Curl-Ups - Lie on your back with knees bent, pelvis tilted to flatten your back, and 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 for longer the more you try them.
  • Planks - Lower your body down to your knees and forearms. Extend your knees 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 your arms flat by your sides. Inhale, then with the exhale, tilt your pelvis. Hold for 3 seconds, then release.
  • Bridges - Similar to pelvic tilts, but instead, you will make a straight line from knees to shoulders and you should try to hold this position for roughly 20 seconds. You will also 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, or were just simply impossible for me to do with my herniated discs. Obviously everybody is different, so some might be able to do these while still having a herniated disc. Always consult your doctor before trying a new exercise.

  • Running
  • Full crunches and sit-ups
  • Intense weight training (minor weightlifting has proved to be okay for me)
  • Ice skating and skating

If you've had back surgery, has the surgery lessened your pain or worsened it?

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Stay strong, stay healthy

Your best bet with 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 at helping 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.

© 2012 Danielle Lopez


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    • profile image

      hellen 2 years ago

      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[1] in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism and Jainism). In India they have now made compulsory to students in their curriculum.


    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      Thanks for reading!

    • robertdking profile image

      robertdking 5 years ago

      Very useful article. Thanks!

    • Daniella Lopez profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      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. :)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      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 profile image

      Danielle Lopez 5 years ago from Arkansas

      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 profile image

      strkngfang 5 years ago

      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 :)