09 January 2012

Exercises for (healing) a Hernaited Disc .

Kalpna Shenoy  put up a very relevant question :" How can I Strength Train with a Herniated Disc ? Or indeed do any Exercises with a herniated disc ?"
First of all what is a Herniated disc ? What causes it ?
  • The discs are tough cushions between the vertebrae . When uneven pressure as by years of poor posture,forward slouching,prolonged sitting ,hunching,bad rounded back bending and yes - injuries, falls,accidents can cause pinching of the disc and its outer covering degenerates.
Core Concepts

What Not To Do ?
After this very brief explanation let us go into what exercises ( Strength Training or others) not to do with slip disc,hernia or back pain.

  • Some Exercises will be wrong - ones which involve forward bends (many yoga postures) ,toe touches and sit-ups.Even walking or running in wrong ( back in lordosis,stomach sticking out ) postures aggravates spinal stress.
  • In Strength Training :  Exercises which put vertical pressure or involve bending down with a weight can easily go wrong if you have disc problems. So avoid standing presses and curls, bent -over barbell rows, loaded back squats, heavy deadlifts, bench pressing till postural corrections are in place.
Two Principles:
  • The real role of your abs is to stabilize your spine.Disc problems can be offset if you learn to use your abs a lot in daily activities like sitting and walking.
  • The Stability of your Spine depends on the Mobility of joints below and above it.The hip joint needs to be active and strong . So must be the thoracic spine.When the hips are weak (as is common when people sit for long periods of time) - the back takes the load and when upper back is stiff,lower back becomes mobile -which spells spinal disaster.
Our motive in doing any exercise is healing and strengthening the upper back and abs so that pressure is taken off the weak back .Also Postural Reform ,less sitting and better bending techniques are integral to back health.The muscles used to maintain neutral spine are your abdominal and core muscles.You must learn to wake up those sleeping core musculature to support your spine.
Rule I  : No forward bending .
  • You will basically ditch toe touches and sit-ups and any halasanas. And take up easy stretches that involve taking the spine backward -e.g cobra pose .Or going down on all fours -like downward dog and cat stretches. Crawls are the greatest heart pumping exercise you can ever do.Also stretches to open up the thoracic spine are great (see doorway stretch below ).Long distance cycling or spinning classes in the gym are not advisable for the same reason.

Rule 2 : Strength without vertical loading and bending.
  • All bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups and pullups and hangs are good as gold -for they do not involve spinal loading. Single leg exercises like lunges,single leg deadlifts, and split squats are awesome as they can be done while holding a dumbell or a kettlebell in your hands and will strengthen your  hips and knees -thereby aiding that weak back. They also help you in engaging the core at a sub-conscious level which means you will automatically squat down while lifting a laundry tub or while making a bed and will use your upper back and arms to keep something on an overhead shelf and lunge to stop yourself from skidding on a slippery surface.
 Rule 3 : Machines have a place - a small place though.
  • Machine movements will be more doable -- dips, pulldown variations, torso supported press and lat machines, leg press and extensions --  but I am not a big fan of machines except in the rehab period. There is little carryover in real life and they can become a bad habit.Keep them as an occasional -once a week thing.
Rule 4 :  Core is the seat of all power.
  • Honestly -the highest form of yoga is awakening the kundalini which is at the base of the spine.Core is everything at this juncture -the intersection of glutes - abs -spine - quad . To strengthen Core ,acquire a Swiss ball .To go to a higher level acquire a TRX Suspension Training system . Both are available at Yogi Sports -Mumbai. Or use some dog leashes !Regular exercises like bodyweight squats and planks become much more core -intense with these simple use at home exercise aids.
Rule 5 :  What you do outside gym matters more !
  •  Honestly  doing twenty minutes of stretches and core exercises is of marginal help if you do not take care to sit up straight - take breaks every 40 minutes of sitting, bend by using your legs and glutes instead of the back and so on.The purpose of exercise is to help you identify and target the weak links. But if you sabotage the good work in gym by your spinal stupidity outside it -I can only pray for Good Sense to prevail.
Have more questions ? Need more detailed inputs ? Shoot them ! We all must get the Core Curriculum dialled in !


  1. Durga9.1.12

    Thank you soooo very much Varsha for making me understand why and what of spinal problems - will keep popping questions though!!

  2. Kalpana shenoy10.1.12

    thanks a lot varsha!!good reading!!!really appreciate your prompt response!!!

  3. Sharat10.1.12

    Ok I will be doing glute and upper back exercises now. How are pushups and lunges ?

  4. giftwithlove11.1.12

    Informative Site.giftwithlove.com

  5. Mainak20044.6.12

    This is excellent input. I have slip disk.plea as let me know if the treatment is posible in Bangalore.i want to go for this treatment.

  6. Mainak any exercise for strengthening the core and glutes is effective : however this is not a treatment like a pill or a surgery : it is a way to be painfree and mobile by taking undue load off the spine : which I have discussed in detail in the blog..

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  9. Very informational post thanks for share...........

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  15. shishir10.4.14

    great post !

  16. Would bicycling or a spin class be a suitable option for cardio?



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