A herniated disc can be excruciating. This injury, often called a slipped or bulging disc, is the bulging or rupture of an intervertebral disc in your spine. Once it bulges or ruptures, it presses on nerves and causes pain. Typically you'll have a slipped disc in the back, but sometimes in the neck.
When even coughing or laughing hurts, though, the thought of exercising can seem intimidating. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, any movements you make should be slow and controlled if you have a herniated disc.
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Avoid exercises that place a lot of stress on your back until those muscles start to tone up. Check with your doctor or physical therapist for specific prolapsed disc exercises to avoid. These professionals can also provide you with exercises for slipped disc recovery.
1. Leg Press
The leg press is a machine attached to weights in which the user lies down and pushes up or pushes out against the weight. The position used during this exercise can cause the user to bend forward at the waist.
This movement can increase symptoms of a herniated disc, according to an article published in August 2013 by International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
A midrange squat that lowers your bottom to just behind or above your knees is better for your legs overall, but avoid a deep squat down to the ground until your back is stronger. Be sure to keep your back straight and chest up to help prevent bending forward at the waist.
2. Straight Leg Exercises
Exercises in which the legs are straight stress the discs in your spine more than bent leg exercises. In addition, bending over to touch your toes with straight legs or sitting with legs straight out to touch your toes can increase your symptoms as this movement includes flexion of the lumbar spine.
3. Twisting Exercises
Because a herniated disc often occurs in the lower back or lumbar part of the spine, right above the hips, twisting can not only make the disc worse, but it can be the cause of the problem, according to Mayo Clinic.
Exercises that require you to twist, such as abdominal exercises with a medicine ball or kettlebell or even some yoga moves, can be detrimental after you've herniated a disc.
Bending over to pick up a barbell and then jerking it into position can cause shock to your spine. Pushing up into the air while lying down can also cause pain.
If you must lift weights, avoid bending forward and lifting. Use slow, controlled movements while lifting weights. Practice proper form before engaging in weightlifting.
Consider modifying your weightlifting technique to reduce your need to bend forward. For example, perform power cleans beginning with the weight at midthigh, as recommended in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, rather than lifting the weight from the floor.
Read more: Stretches for a Herniated Disc
Your discs are the shock absorbers of your back. When you pound continually during running, you are increasing the amount of stress placed on the discs. However, according to an April 2014 article published by Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, sports such as weight lifting are more likely to cause disc issues than running.
While this activity does not usually cause a herniated disc, running with a slipped disc in the neck or back can aggravate your symptoms — particularly while running uphill, which requires some forward bending of the spine.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Herniated Disc"
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "A Phased Rehabilitation Protocol for Athletes With Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation"
- Mayo Clinic: "Herniated Disk"
- Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice: "Consideration for Lumbar Disc Degeneration and Herniation in Sports"
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.