The 4 Essential Steps to Properly Treat a Herniated Disc…
Your doctor just told you, or you suspect, you have a herniated disc. Exercise is dangerous now, right?
Not as dangerous as you might think.
In fact, exercise may be the only way to help your body permanently heal a herniated disc.
The trick is knowing what kinds of exercise will help your herniated disc – and not make matters worse. Today that’s exactly what you’re going to find out.
A Herniated Disc… or Not?
One of the few ways to tell for sure whether you really have a herniated disc or not is by having an MRI.
If you want to spend the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for an MRI, be my guest. There’s a good chance you’ll be told you have a herniated disc, bulging disc, ruptured disc, or even the scary-sounding degenerative disc disease. Which are all related… the terminology changes depending on who you ask.
But be forewarned. Just because you have back pain doesn’t mean you actually have a herniated disc. And a lack of back pain doesn’t mean you don’t have a herniated disc, either.
One review of MRIs published in the New England Journal of Medicine found over 60% of adults without back pain have a herniated disc!
So the real question probably isn’t whether you should exercise with a herniated disc… but what kind of exercise will end your back pain while helping heal any herniated discs you may have – known or unknown.
The Trouble with Generic Exercises for Herniated Discs
If you’ve ever visited your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist with a back pain complaint, chances are you were sent home with a sheet of generic back pain exercises like this.
The truth is these exercises may help your back feel better. Or they may not.
The problem is you don’t know. They’re generic. Which means you’re guessing and hoping that they’re going to work.
And you’re guessing and hoping they won’t make your back pain worse.
Now I hear what you’re thinking… If you try an exercise and it makes your back hurt worse, you’re going to stop pretty quickly anyhow. And if it makes you feel better you’ll just keep doing it until the pain goes away. Where’s the harm?
Probably none. If there was, we wouldn’t share so many exercise videos for back pain. A simple two-minute herniated disc exercise or stretch can mean instant pain relief. And I’m thrilled to share these with you so you don’t have to go through another day in pain.
But you want lasting pain relief, right? Not just some exercise or stretch that temporarily relieves the pain then comes back again tomorrow or the next day. Ok then, here’s four simple steps for exercising with a herniated disc.
Step One: Treat the Pain Symptoms
First of all, understand that the spinal discs serving as cushions between each of your vertebrae are similar in design to a jelly donut.
There’s a tougher outside called the annulus and a jelly-like center called the nucleus pulposus that allows the disc to give.
When you have pain from a herniated disc, it’s because the soft material in your spinal disc is being squeezed out of place and pushing on a nerve.
It doesn’t matter whether the jelly has actually broken through the outside of the disc (herniated disc) or is simply pushing it outwards (bulging disc), once it touches a nerve you’re in pain.
Symptoms of a herniated disc can vary dramatically, but is most commonly associated with sciatica, when the herniated or bulging disc presses on your sciatic nerve. Symptoms commonly include one or more of these:
- Sharp, shooting pain starting in the buttocks and travels down the back of one leg
- Numbness and tingling in one leg (pins and needles)
- A burning pain centered in your lower back
- Back pain with gradually increasing leg pain
- Weakness in one or both legs
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
IMPORTANT: Loss of bowel or bladder control, or weakness in both legs at the same time should be considered a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention.
Clearly you’re not going to be able to exercise much with major pain or weakness. That’s why step one is relieving those herniated disc symptoms.
If you’ve read my book, The 7-Day Back Pain Cure, been reading my free email newsletter (sign up by entering your email in the box at the top of this page), or visit this back pain blog very often then you know I’m no fan of dangerous pain pills.
However, I understand the reality is you might need them for a short while if you’re in excruciating pain. But your goal should be to eliminate them as quickly as possible. That’s why I’m sharing my favorite natural pain relief options with you here to help you get off those pain medicines even faster:
Far Infrared Heat
You know how good it feels to bask in the sun. Its the far infrared rays which warm your body to its core. A far infrared heating pad, which provides the same kind far infrared heat without the danger of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, not only gives you relief from back pain and sciatica caused by herniated discs, it actually improves circulation to the area to fight inflammation and promote healing by bringing in needed nutrients.
Pain Relief Cream
Most pain relief creams use methyl salicylate, which is basically a skin-absorbable form of aspirin. While generally safe, heavy usage of these creams can be potentially harmful or even deadly. That’s why I recommend using a natural pain relief cream like our Rub-On-Relief which uses White Willow Bark and other natural ingredients for sustained pain relief without the potential danger of methyl salicylate.
When you have an injury like a herniated disc, your body sends prostaglandins in to cause pain and inflammation. This signals your body to take it easy and provides a mechanism for healing to take place. But your body also needs proteolytic enzymes to shut down the inflammation process and clean up excess fibrin, or internal scar tissue, created during the healing process.
The problem is our bodies dramatically slow down the production of these after about age 27. Fortunately, taking a proteolytic enzyme supplement can help your body finally wrap up the healing cycle and get you back to your normal pain-free life.
Step Two: Relieve the Herniated Disc Pressure
Take a look at that stack of jelly donuts again in the picture above. See how the pressure of the weight above the bottom donut caused it to squash to the point where the jelly squirted out the side?
That’s called compression. And it’s exactly what happens to cause a bulging or herniated disc if you put too much compression on your spinal discs.
Now for the good news. Your body is resilient. And simply by relieving the pressure, or spinal compression, your discs will tend to heal themselves provided you give them what they need (more on that in Step Three).
The way you do this is through spinal decompression – which is nothing more than a fancy term meaning “relieve the pressure on my spine so my spinal discs can function normally again.”
Ask your doctor about spinal decompression, and chances are he’ll tack on a third word automatically: surgery. If your doctor suggests spinal decompression surgery without exhausting every other possible option, run – don’t walk – out of there because back surgery is notoriously risky and failure prone.
Not sure what some of those other spinal decompression options are? Glad you asked…
Seated Inversion Therapy
Inversion therapy has been around for about 2,000 years or so… dating way back to Hippocrates. Of course, the technology has certainly matured quite a bit since good old Hippocrates began stringing patients upside down from a ladder to help their back pain.
Actually, these days we know that going completely upside down, or fully inverted, isn’t even necessary. As little as a 15% inversion angle can make a tremendous difference as gravity gently relieves pressure by pulling in the opposite from normal direction.
I’ve heard from more people than I can count how the very first time on an inversion table they got instant pain relief. Even stubborn herniated discs will sometimes pop instantly back into their proper place when the pressure that caused them to herniate is relieved.
But how do you know unless you try it? We used to only sell inversion tables at full price right up front… and customers were happy to buy. Because they work.
Yet some people – to their detriment – were still too skeptical to give seated inversion a try. Maybe you’re one of those?
That’s why I came up with an “offer you can’t refuse” by giving a full 30 day free trial on our bestselling inversion table. Either it helps your pain or you don’t pay for the table. You can find our inversion table 30 day free trial here.
Honestly, I’ve seen faster results at relieving herniated disc pain from inversion than just about anything else we’ve ever tested. So you really have nothing to lose but your pain.
We like to call the standard exercise ball you can find at your local department store or health club a “poor man’s spinal decompression device.”
Here’s how you can use the little blue wonder to decompress your spine if you truly can’t afford one of the better options like an inversion table or Back Ease – or are stuck in pain away from home.
- Lie across the ball face up
- Roll your head and body backwards toward the floor – let your back arch and conform to the surface of the ball without actually touching your head to the floor
- Rest in that position as your spine gently decompresses
Pretty simple, right?
No Device Decompression
Ok, one more option for relieving pressure on that herniated disc. And this one doesn’t require you to put out one red cent – ever. Of course, it’s not as powerful as the devices I described above, but it’s hard to beat free! It’s called a spinal decompression standing stretch.
The stretch itself tricky, so you might want a partner to help you do it correctly the first few times. To see how its done, watch this video where Dr. Wiley and Steve Hefferon demonstrate how to do the spinal decompression standing stretch.
Step Three: Support Your Spinal Discs
I already told you the inner material of your spinal discs are made of roughly 70% water. So what do you think you need to drink more of to supply what they need to heal?
No, not coffee… beer… orange juice… whatever. That’s not good enough. You need to drink more water.
And if you really want to pump up the pain relief, add a little lemon juice (without sugar) to your water. An acid alkaline imbalance can leave you in unnecessary pain and worse. Lemon water is one of the healthiest drinks to help restore proper blood pH.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past decade or two you’ve also heard how our food no longer has the vitamin and mineral content it used to have. So take a natural high-grade multi-vitamin supplement to ensure your body as the nutrients it needs to repair herniated discs, injuries, and plain old daily wear-and-tear.
Step Four: Safe Herniated Disc Exercises
Finally, remember your body was meant to move. Not sit still in front of a desk or television all day long.
Safe herniated disc exercises during recovery are those that are either very gentle, provide extra support to your body by their nature, and / or are highly targeted to helping your specific underlying problem.
Here’s some exercises I can recommend if you’re concerned about exercising with a herniated disc:
Pilates (pronounced “pah-LAH-teez”) has proven to be one of the more popular classes at many health clubs around the United States in recent years. Pilates is excellent for building a strong core, reinforcing good posture, and balancing muscle development.
What you may not know is Pilates was originally designed as a deep body conditioning and rehabilitation workout for dancers. Which means its low impact and a perfect choice for exercising with a herniated disc to prevent back pain and minimize risk of reinjury.
You don’t have to run out and join a health club if you’re not already a member to benefit. Just ask me for a free Pilates DVD and you can try it for yourself right at home.
There are many different styles and poses in yoga. Some may be too challenging for someone with a painful herniated disc.
I’ve found Hatha Yoga to be a form very tolerable for those with herniated disc related back pain. Hatha Yoga combines classic poses (called asanas), controlled breathing, and deep relaxation to condition and strengthen your body regardless of your current flexibility or other physical limitations.
If you would like to give yoga a try, internationally renowned yoga instructor Lucas Rockwood has graciously created a free yoga for back pain video to help you get started.
Herniated disc exercises don’t have to be part of a formal exercise program.
Simply moving around in water like a nearby pool helps loosen and limber up your body while offering it support you wouldn’t normally get on dry land.
For some specific suggestions, listen to Steve Hefferon’s short audio on water exercises for back pain.
Muscle Balance Therapy
While Pilates, yoga and playing around in the pool can all be helpful exercises for herniated disc related back pain, if you want to prevent its recurrence you absolutely must address the number one leading cause of all back pain – muscle imbalances.
In a nutshell, a muscle imbalance occurs when one set of muscles becomes stronger and tight through overuse while an opposing set of muscles becomes weaker and stretched out from underuse. This unbalanced state pulls your skeletal system out of its proper alignment which leads to all kinds of painful postural dysfunctions.
Muscle balance therapy is a systematic approach for identifying what specific muscle imbalances you have. Then, instead of getting a generic set of exercises and stretches like in the chart at the beginning of this article, muscle balance therapy gives you targeted exercises to strengthen your underworked, weak muscles and targeted stretches to loosen up those tight, overworked muscles.
By eliminating your muscle imbalances with the provided stretches and exercises, herniated discs are able to resolve naturally and excess pressure from the related postural dysfunctions help prevent future herniated discs.
For a complete at-home system for eliminating muscle imbalances including targeted exercises to help heal herniated discs, take a look at our Lose the Back Pain System.
Written By: Updated: December 9,2011