Back massage

Photo credit Toa Heftiba

If you think you have a disc injury or you have had scans to confirm you have a disc injury you can exercise BUT you must take some precautions. In fact keeping strong and flexible will help to reduce your pain and increase your mobility for your whole life. You do however need to be careful when exercising with a disc injury. The wrong movement can aggravate the condition and cause more pain. So how do you know what to do and what not to do?

The first things to understand is – where is your disc injury? Is you disc injury in your lower back or your cervical spine (your neck)? If you have had imaging you may know if the disc injury is posterior (towards the back) or anterior (towards the front).

Once you know where it is let’s talk briefly about what it is.

A disc injury can be called a ‘bulging disc’, a ‘disc rupture’ or a ‘protruding disc’. Spinal discs are the shock-absorbing rings of fibrocartilage and glycoprotein that separate your bony vertebral bodies while allowing movement at each spinal level, and enough room for the major spinal nerves to exit from the spinal canal and travel to your limbs.

The outer section of the spinal disc is the annulus. It consists of multi-directional fibrocartilaginous fibre layers. That are all densely packed to create a wall around the glycoprotein filled jelly-like disc nucleus. When the disc receives pressure over time it can deteriorate and as it ‘bulges’ it can put pressure on the nerves that thread out from the spinal chord to the limbs. This can cause nerve pain such as sciatica down the back of legs of severe neck pain and head aches.

Image shows a normal disc, a bulging disc and a herniated disc
Cross section view of vertebrae

Some movements and exercise can further aggravate the nerves and cause more nerve pain. There are a lot of exercises that can be done without doing more damage. By learning movements that don’t aggravate the injury you can develop new movement habits that reduce the pain.

There are some general rules that will keep you safe while exercising with a disc injury.

1. Limit the amount of rolling bending or buckling through the spine. Keep your spine long and straight when bearing weight or bending. 

2. Limit forward bending. If you must forward bend to stretch, make sure your spine is long and straight rather than rounding or bending through your spine.

3. Usually the disc injury has been caused by movement patterns that hold our spine out of alignment. This may be from tight leg muscles, tight hamstrings at the back of the legs or type quad muscles at the front of the legs. Stretching these muscles can help with the alignment of the spine.  this can result in less nerve compression and less pain,

There are many benefits from continuing to exercise after sustaining a disc injury.

  • Reduced nerve pain
  • Increased strength and mobility
  • Less back or neck pain

It is important to move carefully to avoid further injury. But to not move at all can make things even worse. Don’t let a disc injury stop you moving and enjoying your life or make you ‘old before your time’. If you want to feel in control of your life and your body again, regular, gentle targeted exercise is the only way to achieve this.

I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor and ex-dancer. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online. To receive regular body wisdom sign up below.

Post-natal movement & Pilates

Can I exercise with a disc injury?
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