Top 3 exercises for still very tender herniated disc for pain relief - Be My Healer
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By Sophie Xie / September 13, 2016

Best 3 exercises for those struggling with restless pain from a herniated disc

exercises for acute herniated disc

A lot of us have experienced acute herniated disc injury in our past and felt helplessly struggling with pain and discomfort in a dragging recovery process. You are in so much pain and you can't do the plank, squatting, curl ups, yoga, or whatever exercises that people told you is beneficial for core strengthening and lower back pain.

So what exercise CAN you do when you are in lots of pain from acute herniated disc injury?

Your body will start to feel normal again, and will be willing to get strong again. You can help your body to recover and control the symptoms by performing these gentle, non-strengthening, non-straining, movement and positional based "exercise".

1: Prone press up

"prone" refers to the body position when we lay on our stomach, facing down. If you notice that your back pain more tolerable when you lay on your belly, you will love this exercise. The prone press up is part of the McKenzie positional treatment for back pain, especially from acute herniated disc injury, and it helps to push your disc content back into its proper place. 


  • To lessen lower back sensitivity and stiffness from acute herniated disc injury
  • To centralize sciatica or leg pain. This means that, by performing this exercise, you should feel the leg pain moving up along the leg towards the lower back

Part one: Start off this exercise by lying on your stomach on a cushioned firm surface with a pillow propped underneath your chest so that you back is arching backward slightly. You can stay in this position for 10-20 mins as long as your body tolerates it with no flaring up pains.

prone on pillow McKenzie

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Part two: Once you found yourself tolerating part one pretty good, you can progress to part two. While laying on your stomach, slowly press up and prop yourself up on your elbows. Stay in this position for 1-3 mins as tolerated at a time.

McKenzie step 1 elbow press up

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Part three: Once you feel pretty comfortable with prone on elbows, you can progress to the full version of prone press up. Lie down on your stomach with your hands in a push-up ready position. Push up onto your hands and straighten your elbows. Keep your pelvis (or belt buckle) on the resting surface.

McKenzie step two prone press up

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If your spine is on the stiff side and you cannot straighten out your elbows and keep your pelvis down at the same time, move your hand position slightly forward to reduce the extension.

Perform the push ups in 3 sets of 10 with 30 seconds resting between sets. Repeat this exercise every few hours throughout the day.

Precaution: If you lower back pain become worse, or leg pain (or numbness) gets more severe, when you lay on your stomach or performing any of above exercises, you should stop the exercises right away.

2. The Side Glide

Not everyone's pain improve with trunk extension. Lots of people suffering from the acute herniated disc injury has such sensitive pain in the lower back and pain down the same side leg, that their body intuitively lean away from the pain. 

If you find yourself preferring to lean forward, especially away from the painful side of your back, and that you have leg pain on the same side, you should definitely try this self-mobilization exercise(also a Mckenzie exercise).


  • ​Improve spine alignment and posture
  • Decrease pain caused by herniated disc material irritating sensitive nerve tissues.


  1. Stand with your body perpendicular to a wall with your feet about 12-18 inches away from the wall. The painful side of your back or leg should be away from the wall.
  2. Bend your elbow that is close to the wall and tuck it into your side.
  3. Lean your shoulder against the wall.
  4. Place your hand against your hip that is away from the wall.
  5. Slowly press your hips towards the wall so that they glide under your rib cage.
  6. Hold the end position for 2-3 seconds, then slowly release. Be sure to not swing your hips away from the wall. Just allow your body to relax so your hips slide back to the starting position.
McKenzie side glide for acute herniated disc treatment exercise

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​Note: If standing straight is irritating for your back initially, you can perform this mobilization exercise with some forward bending at first, then progress to straight back.

If you have leg pain, or "sciatica", you should try to notice signs of "centralization", or pain retrieving from the leg to the lower back.

Precaution: If you lower back pain become worse, or leg pain (or numbness) gets more severe, when you performing above exercise, you should stop the exercises right away.

Here is a great video trying to explain this exercise:

3. FABER stretch in prone

This exercise is simply trying to help you relax some of the most sensitive muscles when you are suffering from lower back pain and "sciatica" leg pain.

If you feel that your muscles are stiff and tense and can not relax no matter what you do, you are probably right. When you sustain injuries, your muscles' job is to rise to the occasion and protect your body from further harms. In most cases, your muscle will over-react and get stiff and tender during the process of recovery. 

Here, I will suggest a resting body position to signal those notorious muscles to relax down, allowing blood flow to circulate through the tissues.


  • ​Release the Quadratus Lumborum muscles by place these muscles in a relaxed position, hope to reduce muscle stiffness and pressure in the lower back.
  • Release the piriformis muscle by placing these muscles in a relaxed position, hoping to reduce leg pain and numbness caused by nerve compression secondary to piriformis muscle spasm


FABER stretch for QL and piriformis stretch

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  1. Lay on your stomach, facing down.
  2. Move one knee up towards your shoulder by bending both hip and knee on that side.
  3. Ideally, you want to bring your knee to the level of your hip for best muscle release. However, if you are not that flexible yet, you can try to bring your knee as far up as you can.
  4. If this position is awkward, uncomfortable, or irritating for you, you can try these adjustment. You can place several pillows under your pelvis and stomach to reduce the torsion. You can also lay down near the edge of the sofa or bed so that your knee can hang off the surface and resting lower than your hip, reducing the torsion.
  5. Once you get comfortable, you want to stay there for 2-5 mins. In order to achieve the best result, try to stay as relaxed as possible. Don't forget to repeat on the other side.

Precaution: If you lower back pain become worse, or leg pain (or numbness) gets more severe, when you are above position, you should stop and get out of that position right away.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

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