A bulging disc occurs most commonly in the lower back and can irritate nearby nerves.You can still work out, as long as you can conduct safe exercises for a bulging disc. If you're lucky, you don't even have any symptoms of this health condition.
You can exercise with a bulging disc as long as the activities are gentle and performed in slow, controlled movements to avoid further pain.
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What is a Bulging Disc?
The terms bulging disc, herniated disc and ruptured disc are used to refer to a health condition in which the inner part of a vertebral disc pushes through the outer fibers of the bulging annulus fibrosus — the tough exterior of a disc. According to the Mayo Clinic, some people don't even have any symptoms, but those who do may experience:
- Arm or leg pain. You can feel pain ranging anywhere from your lower back to your glutes, as well as your thighs and calves. Some people might even have foot pain.
- Sharp or burning pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
You should seek medical attention if you have pain that travels down your arm or leg or you feel a tingling sensation.
Risk factors include excess body weight, as this can cause extra stress on your discs, a job that requires physical demands on your body, genetics and smoking, which lessens oxygen supply to your discs.
Exercising With a Bulging Disc
Luckily, you can still exercise with a bulging disc as long as you don't incur pain. The U.S. Library of Medicine says that after a slipped disc in an area of your spine, with or without surgery, you need to perform exercises to strengthen the muscles that surround your spine and hip for a safe return to physical activity.
Safe exercises for a bulging disc include the following, and are often incorporated in to a rehabilitation program:
- Swimming is good for overall conditioning without impact on your back, says the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
- Walking can improve overall fitness.
- Yoga can be helpful to muscles that support the back and stabilize the spine, says Harvard Health Publications. You do need to be careful to protect your back through proper form and speed by gradually lengthening into a pose rather than quickly dropping into it.
You should perform all exercises in a slow fashion and always bend from your knees, not your waist, to avoid further lower back pain. The U.S. National Library of Medicine also recommends avoiding any heavy lifting during this time.
You should also warm up before any physical activity. This can help increase blood flow to muscles and joints, making them less apt to future workout injuries, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The American Heart Association offers the following tips for a proper warm-up:
- It should last for five to 10 minutes.
- For more intense exercise, you should warm up longer.
- Use your entire body, allowing you to warm up all your muscles.
According to the Mayo Clinic, maintaining good posture when exercising can reduce pressure on your spine and discs.
After recovering from a herniated or bulging disc, be sure to ease back into your workouts when your doctor gives you the okay. If you feel pain, you should stop exercising immediately.
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Muscle Strain”
- American Heart Association: “Warm Up, Cool Down”
- Mayo Clinic: “Herniated Disk”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Herniated Disk”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Low Back Pain"
- U.S. Library of Medicine: "Returning to Sports After a Back Injury"
- Harvard Health Publications: "The Safe Way to Do Yoga for Back Pain"
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.