Stretches for a Herniated Disc

Pain from a herniated disc can be debilitating. You may just want to lie in bed, but it's usually better to move around. Stretches can help you stay limber and ease the pain as long as you're gentle. Lower back and hamstring stretches are often recommended by therapists and doctors.

Try not to hold your breath while you stretch your back. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

How Herniations Happen

A disc herniation occurs in your spine, in the space between your vertebrae. The bony part of your spine is the vertebrae, and the discs are soft and gel-like. They keep the bony part of the spine from rubbing against itself and provide cushioning for the entire spine. You can think of them as shock absorbers.

When a disc herniates, that means pressure builds up on one side and causes the gel of the disc to push out. Often the part that pushes out hits a nerve in the spinal canal, which can be quite painful. You might feel pain at the site of the injury or in a different part of your body like your legs.

Herniated Disc Stretches

Disc herniations can make the muscles around the injury tight, which is also called a muscle spasm. That can make you feel stiff and uncomfortable, but stretching will help alleviate your pain. Remember to be gentle when you do any herniated disc exercises and avoid holding your breath. Ease into each stretch and breathe evenly.

Press Up

Sometimes moving your spine can actually help your pain. This stretch is performed on the floor and is easy to control, but if you feel pain in your lower back or down your legs, you should stop.

Lie on the floor on your stomach. Place your hands under your shoulders. Gently press your hands into the ground, straightening your arms. Leave your hips on the ground. Your lower back will gently bend backward. If it starts to hurt, stop and lower yourself back to the floor.

Gluteal Stretch

A herniated disc can cause sciatica, which sends pain and numbness down your leg. This stretch focuses on your glute muscle, which the sciatic nerve passes through, which can help relieve sciatic pain.

Lie on your back with your legs in the air and knees bent. Cross your right ankle over the front of your left knee. Grab your left thigh with both hands and lean back. You should feel a stretch in your right glute. Repeat the stretch on the left side as well.

According to an article from Summit Medical Group, you should hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat up to three times per leg.

Backward Bend

Much like the press up, this stretch gently bends your lower back, which can help alleviate pain from your disc herniation.

Stand tall with your hands on your hips. Look up and lean back with your shoulders, letting your hips come forward slightly. Go slow and don't move too far, but you should feel your lower back extending. Stop if you feel any pain.

Cat and Camel

This is a gentle stretch for your spine performed in one of the most comfortable positions if you're suffering from back pain.

Start in an all-fours position on the floor. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Gently round your spine, exhale and tuck your chin. Then arch your spine, inhale and look up.

If you have a herniated disc in your neck, you don't have to move your head as you stretch. An article from Blue Hills Sports and Spine Rehabilitation recommends repeating this stretch 10 times.

Seated Chair Stretch

According to an article from LA Spine, this hamstring stretch is very gentle, which makes it perfect for someone who isn't very flexible.

Sit in a chair with another chair in front of you, facing toward you. Put one foot on the chair so that your leg is straight. Slowly lean forward toward the leg and stretch your hamstring. If your lower back starts to hurt, you're probably leaning too far forward.

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