If you have a herniated disk, exercises for the lower-ab region can sometimes be painful. The best ab exercises for a herniated disk require no flexion or extension of your spine -- meaning your won't need to move your spine. If you suffer from pain and stiffness in your back, legs or buttocks from your herniation, you may find that the pain dissipates if you consistently perform ab exercises.
Technically, exercises that only incorporate the lower section of your ab muscles don't exist. This is a common misconception because you feel some ab exercises more in your lower abdominal region. The American Council on Exercise recorded EMG activity during ab exercises and found that participants were not able to separate activation of the lower and upper abdominal region regardless of the exercise performed.
The plank incorporates the muscles in your abs with no movement in the spine. Start out on your hands and knees with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Place your forearms on the ground with your elbows, forearms and hands in a straight line and your palms facing down. Slowly step one foot back at a time so that your weight is supported on your toes and forearms only. Drop your hips so that your head, neck, spine and hips are in a straight line. Hold the pose as long as possible, rest for 30 seconds and then repeat. Work up to holding each plank for 60 seconds.
The side Plank activates all of your ab and core muscles without putting pressure on spinal disks. Lie on your side with your body in a straight line and your feet stacked. Prop yourself up on your bottom elbow and forearm. Your elbow should be under your shoulder, and your forearm should come straight out from your elbow, with your palm facing down. Lift your hips off the ground slightly so that you are supporting your weight on your forearm and the side of your bottom foot. Keep your body straight. Hold the pose as long as possible. Switch sides and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the pose on both sides, and work up to holding the side plank for 60 seconds on each side.
The Cat-Cow is a yoga pose that incorporates your ab muscles. According to "The New York Times Health Guide," yoga poses are among the best treatments for herniated disks. Start on your hands and knees with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Maintain a straight spine and look down at the floor to align your neck and spine. Exhale, round your back like an angry cat, pull your abdominal muscles in tight and look down. Inhale and drop your belly toward the floor, bring your tailbone up and look up. Do two sets with 10 to 15 reps for each set.
If you recently discovered or suspect that you have a herniated disk, check with your doctor, since you may need physical therapy before beginning an exercise program. Never continue exercises that cause sharp or severe pain. Exercise should not worsen your symptoms. Warm up your muscles before these exercises for a few minutes with some low-intensity cardio such as walking. The plank, side plank and Cat-Cow are all isometric exercises, so a cooldown and stretching afterward are not required.