Herniated Disc: Exercises to Avoid (and Other Common Mistakes)

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Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine 

If you type " herniated disc on Google, you will probably find 1001 exercises and solutions to reduce your pain. The problem is that we never talk about exercises to avoid in the presence of this condition.

In the following article, we discuss exercises to avoid, but also 8 deadly sins not to commit when suffering from this condition.

I warn you, you will probably be guilty of one of these sins, and some may even go against what a practitioner has told you in the past. 

Let's get started without further ado!

Note: Above all, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the diagnosis of herniated disc. To know everything about this condition (symptoms, subtleties of diagnosis, treatment approaches), see the following article.

Certainly, in the presence of a herniated disc, there are certain exercises to avoid. But more importantly, there are certain habits and even mindsets that many adopt towards their situation. 

Without realizing it, these sins affect the perception we have of our health, the attitude we deploy towards our condition, and ultimately the prognosis for recovery.

Let's take a detailed look at the 8 deadly sins featured in the infographic above, and how they directly (or indirectly) influence herniated disc.

1. Rest

Counterintuitive, I know. Normally, we imagine that by resting his back, it will allow him to heal better. Admittedly, a relative and temporary rest is sometimes necessary after an episode of lumbago. On the other hand, it must be understood that excessive rest has harmful consequences for the back.

The solution is therefore to stay active in a safe environment, while making sure to avoid movements that would aggravate the pain. Some physical activity could, for example, help to mobilize its vertebrae, activate circulation and tone muscles. Or, certain therapeutic exercises prescribed by a professional could also optimize the healing process.

2. Overloading your back

As mentioned previously, it is essential to remain active after an episode of back pain, and avoid excessive rest. On the other hand, that does not mean that you have to run a marathon, or join an acrobatics course!!! Yes, the benefits of exercise for the back no longer need bragging rights. But not every exercise is right for your diagnosis, your stage of recovery, or even your physical condition.

Basically, any exercise that aggravates pain and/or causes residual symptoms should be avoided initially. Again, it is preferable to opt for movements, activities or exercises that solicit the lumbar region (or related regions) without overloading the tissues.

I'll talk more about this in the Herniated Disc: Exercises to Avoid section later in the article.

3. Abuse drugs

This is the number one reflex of those who suffer from back pain. Pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, everyone has their own concoction to relieve their pain.

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Yes, the medications have their place in the treatment of herniated discs. But contrary to what you might imagine, they deal more with the consequences than the actual cause of the problem. They should therefore be complementary to an active approach, and consumed in certain specific situations. Always remember this premise:

“Ideally, you should take the minimum amount of medication, at the minimum dose, for the shortest time possible. »

4. Adopting “bad” posture

Did you think I was referring to a hunched forward posture, with the neck thrown forward, the shoulders rolled up and the back rounded? NOPE ! Know that this demonized posture by many is not necessarily bad in itself. 

Instead of pointing the finger at a particular posture as the cause of herniated disc, we should rather question our "bad" lifestyle habits. Often, it is the sedentary lifestyle and the prolonged postures which increase the muscular tensions, and the discopathy.

So, if you have back pain after sitting for a long time, try getting up from your chair and taking a few steps instead. It's much more effective than trying to find the "perfect" posture that doesn't really exist!

5. Get infiltrated right away 

Like drugs,'infiltration has a place to play in the treatment of herniated discs. But as with medications, injections should be considered in specific situations (and often as a last resort before surgery!).

Unfortunately, I see many patients resorting to infiltration as soon as they feel the slightest symptom. The most unfortunate thing is that some doctors encourage this practice despite the abundant scientific evidence favoring a more “conservative” approach in the first place.

A qualified doctor will be able to guide you on the relevance of having recourse to the injection. It will also suggest the best type of infiltration to consider. Be aware, however, that this practice often offers temporary solutions, and in no way replaces an active approach.

6. Systematically wear a lumbar belt

Following a diagnosis of herniated disc, many people have the reflex to use a lumbar belt to protect their backs. After all, this extra feel-good support should ease our symptoms, and help us heal from our hernia, right? Not always…

Here's why most therapists don't encourage the use of these lumbar supports:

  • The lumbar belts make the muscles “lazy” (why work out when we are doing the work for us!)
  • Lumbar belts limit lumbar mobility (this one necessary to lubricate the joints!)
  • Lumbar belts limit diaphragmatic breathing (if there is less abdominal expansion, breathing will necessarily not be optimal!)

Well, okay, I agree that the lumbar belt can provide temporary security, and help us manage an acute attack of pain. It indeed has several benefits, especially if it is used intelligently and sparingly.

For the opinion of a health professional on the lumbar belt, see the following article.

7. Not consulting

“I thought the pain would go away on its own! » 

"I don't think you can cure my herniated disc. »

“I consulted a forum, and I deal with myself. »

Many people choose not to consult for their herniated disc. The problem is that the pain doesn't always go away over time (it can even get worse, unfortunately!). And the worst part is that an absence of pain does not necessarily mean that our back problem has disappeared!

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In case of acute lumbar pain, consult. In case of persistent pain, consult. If in doubt…consult! A qualified professional will listen to you, guide you, and help you get better.

8. Have a negative attitude

Yes, herniated disc is an anatomical and mechanical problem. But did you know that your state of mind, your emotions and your socio-economic situation can influence your symptoms back pain. Instead of denying this reality (proven time and time again by science!), why not integrate it into the strategies put in place to treat your herniated disc.

Find ways to manage your daily stress (you may need psychological help). Improve your quality of sleep. Integrate meditation to your morning routine. Take the time to breathe the “right way”.

Take time for yourself. You deserve it!

9. BONUS: Being certain that the hernia is the cause of our back problem

Sensitive souls refrain! What if I told you that a herniated disc diagnosed by MRI was not necessarily the real cause of your back pain?

Did you know that a significant proportion of the asymptomatic population presents disc degenerations and disc protrusions? In other words, even people with NO lower back pain can also experience changes in themedical imaging.

Even if your magnetic resonance shows a herniated disc L4-L5, it may be that it was present long before the incidence of your pain, and therefore that your herniation is not necessarily THE cause of your low back pain.

However, some herniated discs can be symptomatic. It is through an exhaustive evaluation that we will be able to determine the influence of your herniated disc on your symptoms, and the consequent management to be adopted.

Herniated disc: what exercises to avoid?

If you have a herniated disc, you've probably heard of the benefits of exercise for treating your condition. The problem is that you don't know which exercises are best for your condition. And above all, you are afraid of making your symptoms worse by doing the wrong thing.

Worse still, you may have made a false move only to realize that your pain had increased!

Is exercise actually good for your back? And above all, what are the exercises to avoid so as not to aggravate the herniated disc? Answering these questions requires first understanding some key concepts.

First, the pain caused by an exercise is most often related to an inability of your body to support the requested load. In other words, your lack of strength, stability, or flexibility can cause a particular exercise to cause lower back pain when you perform it.

Add to that the fact that your back is possibly more fragile due to a history of pain, or a previous injury. This explains why you see some people (on Youtube for example) doing exercises called “bad” for the back, without complaining of back pain!

In their case (and unlike you perhaps!), their back is able to tolerate the effort required by the exercise in question, which explains the absence of pain.

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So what are the exercises to avoid? The answer is unfortunately very complex insofar as, with some exceptions, there is no “bad” exercise as such! Certain exercises increase pressure on the discs, such as movements involving bending and twisting your core. Other exercises put more pressure on the joints of the spine, such as movements in hyperextension.

Depending on the fragility of your tissues, certain exercises should be modified - at least temporarily - so as not to aggravate your symptoms. In general, your body will show pain if you irritate a structure that is fragile. The key is to take it gradually and make sure you don't cause lingering post-exercise pain.

In summary, exercise has repeatedly been shown to be effective in the treatment of low back pain. The problem is that many people perform exercises without having the strength, flexibility or lower back stability necessary to perform these exercises safely, which leads to pain.

Instead of prohibiting a particular movement, it is better to adjust the exercise to minimize stress on the lumbar vertebrae by adopting better posture or body mechanics. Note, however, that in certain specific cases, relative rest must be observed and certain exercises may be completely contraindicated (contact your healthcare professional if in doubt).

To find out all about herniated disc and sport (sports proposal, prohibited sports, return to sport), see the following article:

Herniated disc and sport: do they go together?

Conclusion

You are now aware of the exercises to avoid in the presence of herniated disc (and other deadly sins). I hope with the information shared, you will correct some of your misconceptions, and attack your back problem with more confidence.

There is always something to do to get better. And a proactive approach will always be the best long-term solution.

Good recovery!

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