As part of your treatment plan, your doctor or physical therapist will likely recommend core-strengthening exercises for a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease. Strengthening your abdominal and lower back muscles will help support your spine and can improve your condition.
As a general rule, you can do any exercise as long as it doesn't cause pain. However, some exercises are commonly recommended. These are considered safe, but you should only do the exercises that your doctor recommends for your specific condition.
Only your doctor or physical therapist can tell you what core-strengthening exercises for a herniated disk and degenerative disc disease are safe and appropriate for your condition. Recommendations may include postural exercises, hip bridges and planks.
Basic Posture Exercises
While not a traditional core exercise, maintaining proper posture can be challenging for many people. Improving your posture with exercises such as these from Harvard Health Publishing and the Mayo Clinic can help alleviate some of the pressure on your discs, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Move 1: Shoulder Blade Squeeze
- Sit in a chair with your spine erect and your core muscles contracted.
- Roll your shoulders back and down and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Hold for three to five seconds.
- Release and repeat several times.
Move 2: Seated Pelvic Tilt
- Sit on the edge of a chair with your hands on your thighs and your feet flat on the floor.
- Contract your core muscles and pull your shoulders back in line with your chest.
- Inhale and tilt your pelvis and ribs forward. As you do so, open your chest and look up.
- Exhale and roll your pelvis and hips back and look down toward the floor.
- Repeat several times.
Move 3: Abdominal Pull-In
- Stand tall or sit erect in a chair.
- Inhale; then slowly exhale as you count to five.
- Pull your lower abdomen in and up toward your spine.
- Relax and take a normal inhale and exhale.
- Repeat the exercise several times.
Practice these exercises daily. It's easy to do them while you're sitting at your desk, and it's a good reminder to maintain proper posture throughout the day.
Your core is composed of muscles in your abdomen, back and pelvis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. You can think of your core as a support system for your spine. Strong core muscles promote good posture and also help alleviate pressure on the vertebral discs. These exercises work the entire core at once, so you don't need to worry about whether you are working your abs, back or hips.
Move 1: Hip Bridge
- Lie on the floor, a mat or a carpet.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms alongside your body.
- Press into your heels and slowly curl your tailbone off the floor, raising your buttocks and spine one vertebra at a time.
- Stop when your weight is on your shoulder blades, pause and then lower back down vertebra by vertebra.
Move 2: Bird Dog
- Start on your hands and knees with your knees aligned directly under your hips and your wrists below your shoulders.
- Contract your abdominal muscles and maintain a neutral spine.
- Reach one arm out in front of you and find your balance.
- Reach the opposite leg out behind you, with your foot at hip level.
- Keep your core contracted and hold the position for 15 seconds.
- Release and switch sides; then perform four more repetitions on each side.
Move 3: Plank Pose
- Lie on the floor on your stomach.
- Prop yourself up on your forearms with your shoulders aligned directly over your elbows.
- Tuck your toes in, tighten your abs and lift your hips off the floor. Contract your glutes and lift your knees.
- Keep your body in one straight line and hold the position for 30 seconds or as long as you are able. You can lower your knees to the ground if this becomes too much.
- Return to your starting position and repeat four more times.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends doing these exercises daily.
Is This an Emergency?
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Posture and Back Health"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Herniated Disc"
- Mayo Clinic: "Posture: Align Yourself for Good Health"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Exercise and Physical Fitness"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Spine Conditioning Program"