Exercises for Lower Back Pain & Bulging Discs

There are several great stretching and exercises for the lower back.
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Physical therapy for a bulging disc in your lower back can help to reduce or eliminate pain. It is essential to seek medical advice before performing any exercise with back pain.


What are Bulging Discs?

Disc bulges are not quite the same as a disc herniation. Bulges are caused by the wear and tear of your spinal discs. These disks provide cushioning between the vertebrae, and when they are not in healthy condition, they can cause pain. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the neck and lower back are the most common areas for disc bulges and herniations.


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It can be difficult to tell, even by a medical professional, if you have a disc bulge, herniation or other abnormality. Healthy discs are contained inside their usual boundaries of the vertebral bone. If a disk is displaced with over 25 percent of the disc material protruding, then it is called a disc bulge, according to the North American Spine Society (NASS).

A disc herniation is diagnosed when 25 percent or less of the disc circumference is displaced. Interestingly, disc bulges are less painful on average than disc herniation, even though there is a more significant displacement, says the NASS.


To break it down further, a bulging disc results from a deformation without necessarily having a herniation. The disc nucleus is still inside the disc wall. When it comes to a bulging disc, you never need surgery to treat it, according to the South Carolina Spine Center (SCSC).

Read more: Exercise Treatments for L4 and L5 Herniated Disc

Physical Therapy For a Bulging Disc in the Lower Back

Unfortunately, degenerated discs heal quite slowly. However, pain and inflammation from these disks do not often require surgery and can be treated through strengthening the surrounding musculature, giving the disc more support, says the SCSC.


These exercises should be prescribed to you by your medical professional such as a physical therapist. They will be designed to bring the disc back into its standard placement, sort of like a vacuum suction to relieve pressured nerves and relieve pain.

However, if physical therapy exercises don't work to reduce your pain, surgery might be an answer for herniation. A February 2019 article published in Medicine concluded that surgery could be a better option for reducing pain then continuing with physical therapy for a bulging disc in the lower back over the long-term. Discuss your options with your health care provider to see which options are right for you.



Exercises For a Bulging Disc in the Lower Back

The Alberta Health Services, as well as an August 2013 aritcle published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy provides the following exercises to help to prevent the strain and injury that causes low back pain and disc bulging. These exercises can also reduce the pain caused by bulging discs.

Before performing any exercise, be sure that you consult your healthcare professional, and remember never to push past pain when exercising or stretching. Some of these exercises could exacerbate your condition, so be sure to get permission for each one from your health care provider.


Move 1: Sphinx Position

  1. Lie on the floor on your stomach with your palms flat and your elbows tucked into your sides.
  2. Slowly raise your upper body off the floor by pushing into your hands. Be sure to keep your pelvis in contact with the floor.
  3. Push up as far as you can without any pain or discomfort. Work slowly to get a little higher with each repetition, if you can.
  4. Hold the top position for 10 seconds before slowly lowering and repeating for desired repetitions.


Move 2: Standing Back Extension

  1. Stand up and place your hands on your low back with your fingers pointing towards the floor.
  2. Arch your back in a slow and controlled manner as far as you can before feeling uncomfortable.
  3. Hold this back extension position for three seconds and then return to the start.

Move 3: Cat/Dog


  1. Get onto all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands flat on the ground.
  2. Raise your stomach, arching your back toward the ceiling while bowing your head down toward the floor.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds before returning to start.
  4. Now arch your back, pushing your abdomen towards the floor while raising your head up, with your gaze directly in front of you.
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds before returning to start.
  6. Repeat the sequence for 20 repetitions.

Read more: Vitamins For a Herniated Disc




Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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