Your lumbar spine consists of five spinal vertebrae and gel-like disk pads that support the lower back. These disks are slightly larger than the higher parts of the spine -- the cervical and thoracic regions -- because they must support you through heavy lifting, bending over and twisting at the waist. While the disks are very strong and flexible, the inner gel-like disk material can sometimes push against the disk, creating a bulge. This enlargement can irritate your nearby spinal nerves and can ultimately progress to a herniated disk, where the disk material seeps out.
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Causes and Effects
A lumbar disk bulge is can result from repeated movements that affect the lower back -- for example, if a person lifts heavy objects for a living. But a disk bulge also can result from a small incident, such as a sneeze. If you have been diagnosed with a lumbar disk bulge, it is possible and probable that you can heal the disk with the proper rest and physical therapy exercises. These exercises help to push the disk material back into place, allowing it to heal and return to normal. These exercises are typically performed in 10- to 15-minute intervals throughout the day to help move the disk back into place.
The McKenzie Method is an exercise system designed to heal a lumbar disk bulge through a series of stretching exercises that emphasize proper posture to stabilize the spine and may be recommended by your physical therapist. One example is the wall lean. Stand with your left side toward a wall, about 1 to 1 1/2 feet away. Keeping your feet in place, lean your body to the side, resting your left arm against the wall. Your body should be in a slanted position with your torso supported. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, walking your feet away from the wall even more if you desire to deepen the stretch. Push against the wall to return to your starting position, then repeat three times.
Because forward bending can lead to a disk bulge, stretches that involve leaning backward can have a therapeutic effect in healing the disk. Effective stretching exercises include lying on your stomach with your hands by your shoulders. Push against the floor to lift your body up slightly, feeling a stretch in your lower back. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, then release. You also can perform backward bends throughout the day while standing. Place your hands on your hips and lean back slightly to experience a stretch in the lower back.
While lumbar stretching exercises can be effective in treating a disk bulge, exercises performed with poor posture can have the opposite effect. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist before beginning exercises to ensure your lumbar spine is strong enough to stretch. Then, demonstrate the exercises to ensure proper form and positioning.