Many people with herniated disks don't even know they have the condition. They go about their business, walk, run, climb, bike and participate in active sports without feeling pain and without causing harm. Others with the condition get painful flare-ups that practically leave them bed-ridden. If you have a herniated disk, walking on a treadmill can serve as an important part of your treatment. Done properly, walking on a treadmill can help reduce pain, enhance recovery and prevent further disk problems.
When performed properly, treadmill walking can help maintain overall conditioning if you have a herniated disk.
What Is it?
The spine is made of bones called vertebrae that are stacked into a column. In between the vertebrae, flat, round discs act as shock absorbers. These soft cartilage pads have a gel-like center surround by a fibrous outer layer called the annulus. A herniated disk, also referred to as a ruptured disk or slipped disk, occurs when the soft gel from the center of the disk pushes out through a tear or crack in the outer layer of the disk. You will experience pain if the soft gel presses against nerves that surround the vertebrae.
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Understand the Symptoms
A herniated disk can cause pain in the neck, back or leg, depending on where the damaged disk is located. A slipped disk in the lower back can cause pain in the back, buttocks and leg and pain may even reach down to your foot. If you herniate a disk in your neck you'll likely feel pain in your neck, shoulders and arms and possibly your hands and fingers. Movement can cause pain that shoots down your arm or leg. You may also feel numbness, tingling or weakness in the parts of the body affected by the herniation.
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Know the Causes
As you age your disks lose water content and become more vulnerable to degeneration and herniation. Too much pressure on the spinal cord due to lifting heavy objects or more rarely due to spinal trauma such as an accident can cause a disk to herniate. Weak muscles, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity may contribute to the risk of a herniated disk, according to Johns Hopkins. Exercise and treadmill walking can directly address underlying causes and risks.
Perform Strengthening Exercises
Exercise can be effective in the treatment and prevention of herniated disks — but any activities that cause pain should be considered herniated disk exercises to avoid. Exercise strengthens and stabilizes your lower back muscles. Strong back muscles provide greater support to your spine and take pressure off your spine. Exercise helps with weight loss and increases flexibility and endurance.
You don't have to do power lifting or intensive cardio to manage weight, enhance muscle tone, reduce pain and promote healing. Walking on a treadmill can yield positive results, especially when combined with muscle strengthening activity that targets your back and abdomen. Speak with your physician or get a referral to a physical therapist to get recommendations for lumbar stabilization exercises to improve your posture, strength and flexibility.
General Treadmill Guidelines
Most people can recover from a herniated disk in four to six weeks. Consult with your physician before embarking on any significant physical activity if you have a herniated disk. Start the exercise program slowly. Walk just five to 10 minutes on your first day. Increase the time a few minutes each day, eventually working your way up to 30 to 40 minutes a day.
Begin each session by stretching. Bend to the sides and bend forward. You should avoid running initially as that can compress the spine, exacerbating your condition. Also, don't use the treadmill on an incline as it may stress lower back muscles, especially while you are early in the recovery process.