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Types of Exercise to Avoid if You Have a Bulging Disc


Exercise is generally a good thing for overall health and the various parts of the spine. However, some exercises can be a bit too strenuous or risky if you have a bulging spinal disc. Whether the affected disc is abnormally protruding to one side or fully herniated, the list of exercises it is best to avoid is generally the same. This article explains what should be avoided if you have disc-related issues to prevent further injury or painful flare-ups.

Strenuous Weightlifting

Weightlifting tends to put a lot of pressure on the same parts of the spine where disc problems are common. Specifically with weightlifting, it is best to avoid:

• Powerlifting due to the heavy weight and excess force involved
• "Good morning" exercises, where weight is put on your shoulders as you lean forward while balancing on an extended leg
• Deadlifting because of the potential for disc compression
• Leg presses

On a related note, squats, both with and without weight, should be avoided. The main reason is because the motion required for squats shifts your body weight down to your lower spine area.

Standing Hamstring Stretches

Hamstring stretches and exercises are beneficial, since these muscles need to be strengthened to ease stress on your spine and its discs. However, standing hamstring stretches should be avoided if you have a
bulging disc. The reason is because it is common to bend forward when stretching hamstrings, which could worsen pain related to an already compromised disc. Instead, do hamstring stretches while lying down or when seated.

Sit-Ups and Crunches

The forward and repetitive motions associated with both of these exercises can place too much stress on bulging discs in the lower back area. This is especially true if the protruding disc is affecting your
sciatic nerve, which starts toward the base of your spine.

Traditional Biking

The problem with riding a traditional bike is the possibility of too much jostling and pressure around the affected disc. This is more likely to be an issue if you are riding on uneven, hilly, or rough surfaces. While a stationary bike is generally more stable, there is still the potential for excess disc pressure if it is not properly adjusted.

Toe Touches

Bending, in general, should be limited or avoided as much as possible if you have a bulging or herniated disc. When doing toe touches, the affected disc could be overstressed due to the repetitive bending required.

Exercises Generally Considered Safe for Bulging Discs

Fortunately, there are some exercises you should be able to safely do with a bulging disc. However, check with your doctor first to make sure there are not any risks that apply to your situation. Typically, disc-friendly and beneficial exercises include:

• Gentle yoga routines
• Walking at a comfortable pace on a smooth surface
• Water-based exercises due to the added support and buoyancy from the water
• Cycling on a recumbent bike that eases stress on your spine and its discs

If you have a bulging or herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful procedure, having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation. A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-288-7474.

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