A herniated disc occurs when one of the gel-filled discs in between the vertebrae of the spine ruptures. You may or may not have symptoms or associated pain, or the pain may show up in other places such as your leg or arm. Exercise is a key component of rehabilitating a herniated disc and can be done as soon as one two two days after the event, with your chiropractor's permission. You should avoid any exercise that causes pain and focus on exercises that strengthen the muscles that support the spine.
If you are overweight, the best thing you can do to improve the health of your back is to lose weight. Even though you may have strong back muscles, you are still putting an extra burden on your spine if you are carrying around an extra five, 10 or more pounds. Low-impact cardiovascular exercise such as walking, biking and swimming is indicated for people with a herniated disc. Start out with 10 minutes a day and increase to 30 to 40 minutes four or five days per week.
Lumbar Stabilization Exercises
Your chiropractor or physical therapist may recommend a treatment program that includes lumbar stabilization exercises for building core strength in your back and abdomen. The program may start with some easy exercises like a pelvic tilt, in which you lie on your back with your knees bent and tilt your tailbone up, contracting your abdominal muscles and maintaining a neutral spine. The program will progress in difficulty as you are able to hold the neutral spine position for longer periods of time. An example of a more advanced lumbar stabilization exercise is ball bridge, in which you lie on your back with your heels on a Swiss ball and lift your buttocks off the ground, holding your body in a plank position.
Flexibility is key for maintaining a healthy spine. Stretching should be a part of your daily exercise routine and should focus on back stretches as well as hip, hamstring, glute and hip flexor stretches. Stretching can relieve tightness that may be contributing to a spinal misalignment and it can also help relieve the symptoms of a herniated disc. Stretching is suggested as a long-term addition to your exercise program in order to prevent re-injury.
You should consult your chiropractor before resuming your regular exercise program or engaging in any high-impact or intense forms of exercise. She may suggest that you wait until you have improved spinal stabilization to avoid the chance of re-injury. Otherwise, weight lifting or other forms of cardiovascular exercise are okay, as long as they do not cause pain.