Your spine or vertebral column is comprised of four sections. The cervical vertebrae naturally curves inward and makes up the neck and upper back. The thoracic spine is the upper and mid-back and naturally curves outward a bit. Next is your lumbar or low back area that naturally curves in. At the bottom is the sacral and coccyx or tail bone. L4 and L5 are the lower two vertebrae in the lumbar or low back area, and it is a common spot for disk herniations. While you may need medication to help manage your symptoms, exercises that help to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support your low back will be an important part of your treatment program. They will help you to both recover from the herniation and prevent future injuries.
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Abdominal Strengthening Exercises
When your abdominal muscles are weak your back muscles take on extra work. This can lead to muscle strain and disk problems. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons states it is important to "Do crunches and other abdominal-muscle strengthening exercises to provide more spine stability." Doing a pelvic tilt exercise will help you learn to isolate your low back and abdominal area which in turn will make the muscles stronger. As you become better at pressing your back flat to the ground and then releasing it, you will know how to use this movement to alleviate back pain during other activities.
Simple basic crunch exercises will help to strengthen your abdominal muscles. This can include crunches on the floor, in a chair or using a bench. There are also good abdominal exercise you can do while sitting on a large physioball. As the abdominal muscles strengthen, they will be better able to support your back as you bend, lift, twist and go about your daily activities. Use good from and work with a trainer so you can learn to do crunches without hurting your neck.
Lower Abdominal Dead Bug
The dead bug exercise is another simple movement that will strengthen your core muscles. It will teach you how to hold your midsection in good alignment as you move your legs. The object is to keep the low back in contact with the floor while lowering the legs one at a time. See the Arthritis Today website for a video demonstration (see "Resources").
Low Back Stretches
Stretching your lower back will relieve tight muscles around the herniated disk. When the muscles in your low back and hips are tight, they can pull on your back and increase your symptoms. Exercises such as hugging one or both knees to your chest or spinal twists are both good choices. (see "Resources").
McKenzie Back Pain Exercises
According to a study in the "Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences," “McKenzie exercises for low back pain are a beneficial treatment for increasing flexibility of the spine and improving the pain with better results in pain relief. … McKenzie exercises are successful method for decreasing and centralizing the pain and increasing spinal movements in patients with low back pain.” The Mayo Clinic also states that first you must be evaluated by a physical therapist. The McKenzie exercises you do will be based on what movements exacerbate your symptoms and which ones make it better. These exercises are designed to relieve pressure on the herniated disk and strengthen the muscles surrounding your injury.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons: Herniated Disc Overview
- Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences: The Effects of McKenzie Exercises for Patients with Low Back Pain, Our Experience.
- Arthritis Today: Abdominal Exercises
- Saint Louis Injury and Rehabilitation Center: Lower Back Stretches