Although exercise seems to be a good way to treat back problems, there are some exercises you need to avoid with herniated discs, due to the complexity of this condition. As researchers explained in this article published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine , disc herniation is one of the major contributors to back pain.
Although at the first sign of injury it is advisable to rest to avoid further complications, light exercise after a few days becomes important as a means of activating the muscles. In general, this reduces the pressure on the discs, strengthens the core muscles and can even help you maintain a healthy weight.
However, you should remember that not all exercises are suitable for the treatment of disc herniation. What exercises should you avoid and why? Below we share three of our recommendations.
What is disc herniation?
Before we begin, it is important to explain that the vertebrae are separated by cartilage discs. These discs act as shock absorbers and are responsible for preventing friction between the legs. In addition, they act as ligaments and provide flexibility and mobility to the spine.
The discs consist of two parts, each of which has a specific function. Below we see what these features are:
- Core: The central part of the disc that absorbs the pressure between the vertebrae.
- The ring: The outer part of the disc that limits the rotation.
Disc prolapse occurs when the core is compressed and extends outward due to a tear in the ring. This can cause discomfort or pinch a nearby nerve, which can lead to pain or numbness.
Possible causes of disc herniation may include:
- Natural degeneration from aging
- Bad movements or physical exertion
- A trauma
- Excessive weight and obesity
- Type of work (involving activities with high physical demand)
- Physical activity or sports
Painkillers, rest, lifestyle changes and specific exercises are all methods for treating disc herniation. In rare cases, it may require a surgical procedure. Regardless of the severity, you should take certain precautions, such as avoiding any exercises.
Exercises you should avoid if you have disc herniation
Several studies in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy recognize the importance of exercise as part of rehabilitation protocols for disc herniation. Of course, you should only follow an exercise regimen that is specific to your injury and make sure you pay attention to these exercises you should avoid doing with herniated discs:
Exercises to Avoid with Disc Prolapse: Weightlifting
First and foremost, you should stay away from exercises that put pressure on the vertical axis of your spine. This is what happens with squats, as you do by bending your knees as if you are sitting on a chair, usually while holding a barbell behind your neck.
In the same way, we do not recommend exercises where you hold weights over your head as in shoulder press, otherwise known as military press. In this exercise, you grip the barbell with an exposed grip with your hands a shoulder width apart. Then take the barbell at shoulder height and push it up over your head by stretching your elbows.
These exercises, especially when involving weights, require that the spine remain straight to support the full effect of the weight. They are therefore considered dangerous and should be avoided if you suffer from disc herniation.
Front squats are a good option for relieving pressure from the lower back while still activating the core muscles and other important muscles. In other words, the front squats keep the weight at the level of the collarbone and not behind the head. It is still best to avoid doing any kind of squat with weights until the disc prolapse has healed.
On the other hand, if you want to develop more muscle volume, you can choose the leg press machine. During this exercise, you support the weight with your legs and, when you sit correctly with your butt on the chair, you limit the impact on your lower back when you push the weight away from you.
In the same way, you can do dumbbell rowing as an alternative to military pressure. To perform this exercise, support your knee and one hand on a bench while holding the weight in the other hand. While keeping your core muscles engaged and your back straight, pull your elbow up to the side. In this way, the pressure is evenly distributed and has little effect on the lower back.
2. Abdominal exercises
With disc herniation that occurs in the lower back , the sciatic nerve is also affected. Because of this, you may experience pain that extends from the waist to the hips, buttocks and legs.
These days, most abdominal exercises force the lower spine to bend and create tension at that spot. This tension occurs both in abdominal exercises where you lift the upper body (upper abdomen) and in those where you lift the legs (the lower abdominal muscles).
Therefore, abdominal exercises should be avoided completely, with or without extra weight. Even exercises done with special machines are not recommended, as they naturally bend the lower back to maintain good posture.
Alternative abdominal exercises
The plank is one of the best options for engaging the muscles in your core muscles . The plank allows you to strengthen your adductor muscles while keeping your spine in a neutral position. There are also different types of plank exercises. The ones that have the least impact are the following:
- Anaerobic boards. This is done with the face down and holding the weight over the forearms and feet to keep the body in a horizontal position.
- Side plank. Lie on your side with your feet together. Furthermore, you lift your body so that you support yourself on your elbow, placed just below the shoulder. Hold the position for a few seconds.
Exercises to avoid with disc prolapse: Stretching, rotations and hyperextension
Stretching the spine, rotations and extensions are often an ideal way to start a workout. However, you need to be careful when you suffer from a herniated disc in your lower back.
Stretching that instructs you to touch your knees to your chest or touch your toes while your legs are fully extended can actually aggravate the injury. This is because the position can create more stress and friction on the discs. If you suffer from disc herniation, this is not an area to carry weight or pressure.
An alternative to avoid affecting the spine too much is to perform stretching while lying down, as you would do, for example, to stretch the piriformis. In this way, you strengthen the spine in addition to training the muscles around the spine and reduce the tension in the lower back.
Oblique Crunches , which you also do while lying down, are a safe exercise to stretch your legs. While lying on your back on a mat with bent legs, bring your knees to the left and to the right alternately.
Is it good to train with disc herniation?
Having a herniated disc does not mean that you cannot be active. On the contrary, we recommend that you continue to exercise physically, but with some precautions. It is important to remember the above exercises you should avoid doing with herniated discs and two key factors: Low weight and no pressure on the spine.
The most important thing when treating disc herniation is to refrain from a sedentary lifestyle, as this is usually counterproductive to this type of injury. Of course, ideally, you should train with a professional trainer or a physiotherapist to prevent bad form and risk further injury. In addition, you can do activities with little impact such as yoga, swimming or pilates.