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A slipped disc can be very painful and there is no quick fix for this back condition. Exercise can be the best way to manage pain and recovery. We'll explain the do's and don'ts of working out with a slipped disc.

A slipped disc isn't really a slipped disc at all... The name can be deceiving, and this condition is also called a herniated disc, or prolapsed disc, all referring to the very same thing. A slipped disc occurs in people of all ages, and across both men and women. It is more prevalent in inactive people over 40.

A person can suffer a slipped disc by sneezing, moving in an awkward position, or by lifting something. Slipped discs usually occur in the lower (lumbar) region of the back, but just because you may have moved awkwardly and are suddenly experiencing back pain, it does not mean your disc is herniated. A scan would be required to diagnose a slipped disc, and a quick visit to your physician will usually give you a good idea of how severe your injury is.

Typically, back pain is attributed to pulled or strained muscles, or is the result of weight gain and muscular imbalances. You'll need a workout specific to your diagnoses, and what is safe for a person with chronic back pain is not the same for a person with a slipped disc.

What exactly is a slipped disc?

Understanding what exercises are dangerous to your back requires some insight into your anatomy. With a spine made up of several stacked bones (your vertebrae) which articulate to form movement, the space between them needs to be conducive to the turning and rotation of the bones on each other. This is where your discs come in to play. They are donut shaped soft discs with an exterior membrane and squishy liquid inside. When a disc “slips” it does not actually slip out of place, but part of the membrane gives out and “herniates”, spilling part of the disc to the left or right, on the posterior side of the back.

With this condition, there is inevitably going to be pain. The pain from a slipped disc can take a few forms. The most common is a numbing pain which radiates down the leg is caused by nerves being pinched by the slipped disc. Some patients also experience tingling in the butt and thigh, usually only on one side (the side of the slipped disc).

Never Do This if you have a slipped disc!!

Lets say you have visited your physician and they have concluded that you do, indeed, have a slipped or herniated disc. They will likely tell you to keep moving about as you usually do, and to manage your pain with painkillers. This is all fine and good unless you do something that will perpetuate your slipped disc and make matters worse... and there are several which can do just that!

Exercise Do's And Don'ts For Your Slipped Disc

If you have have been diagnosed with slipped disc, never do this

  • Bend forward to reach your toes: whether sitting or standing, do not bend over forward. This creates a Flexing motion of the spine, like a hunched back. You're better off keeping the spine straight, and avoiding stretches and exercises which cause you to reach for your toes.

  • Perform sit ups or crunches for the abs: there are lots of ways you can strengthen your abs, and this is not one of them! This creates the same spine flexion we mentioned before.

  • Bend over to pick up heavy weights: especially in the few weeks right after your injury, avoid bending to pick up heavy things. Reach for weights that are near or at your height, or start off with exercise machines which have seats, cables and handles, so you don't have to lift and place weights at all.

  • Push it until you really “feel” your workout. You don't need to kill yourself working out! Do a little each day, and be aware of your limits. More today will not improve your condition faster; put in your effort little by little each day, remembering that slow and steady wins the race!

But definitely do this:

  • Keep moving: don't be too shy to keep moving about.

  • Manage your pain: take painkillers steadily, as prescribed by your doctor. This helps to keep some of the pain at bay. The most common are acetaminophen, ibuprofen and back relaxants (usually used for stiff or pulled muscles). You'll also be able to move a little easier, which is just what you'll need for exercise!

  • Take regular walks: get out into the fresh air and start walking. First thing in the morning or after dinner gives most people a great boost of energy. In addition, walking helps to loosen up your back, and to relax your mind, as well. Walk with good posture, keep your shoulders back, chest up and engage your abdominal muscles!

  • Stretch: take a yoga or pilates class to help you loosed up a little and stretch out your muscles and joints. Stretching is an important part of every workout. Spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching after (not before) you exercise. Back extensions are highly recommended; these are the opposite of flexion. Try the Mckenzie stretch by lying on the floor face down, placing your palms on the floor under your shoulders and pressing your upper body upwards while relaxing your torso and legs.

  • Strengthen the core: there are many exercises you can do for the core: the plank, leg raises, reverse crunches, and more. Strengthening the core should make up the bulk of your workout. You can do exercises which engage many muscles at the same time, like Walking Overhead Lunges using light dumbbells, or hanging leg raises.

Having a stronger and more supple body will help to treat your slipped disc, and help to prevent it from ever occurring again. If left untreated, the likelihood of re-occurrence is greatly increased, so be sure to commit to a plan you can really stick to in the long-run!

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