Core Moves to Avoid for Herniated Discs
Remember doing straight-leg sit-ups in gym class (with a PE teacher barking at you) till you couldn’t move? Well, thankfully we are wiser now and know how unproductive, and even dangerous, those sit-ups are. Core exercises are often recommended to prevent back pain, but they might also be part of a physical therapy regimen in a comprehensive back pain treatment program. In fact strengthening your core can even prevent herniating a disc. The American Council on Exercise (ACE), in their September 2014 newsletter, reports that 674 pounds of pressure are placed on the spine during straight and bent leg sit-ups.
According to ACE, some variations of common core exercises should be avoided and modified to improve strengthening abdominal and back muscles, as well as enhance safety when it comes to preventing injuries like herniated discs or common muscle strain. These exercises, which minimize lumbar stress and might be recommended during back pain treatment include:
- Curl-ups – Avoid crunches, either bent leg or traditional sit-up style, in favor of curl-ups. ACE recommends the McGill curl up for stability and strength. While lying flat on your back, place both hands below your lumbar spine and bend one leg while keeping that foot on the floor. Carefully lift up your shoulders while keeping your abs tight and low back off the ground and out of the movement. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat about 6 to 10 times on each side.
- Bird-Dog – Avoid back extensions while hanging over a back extension chair at the gym. Because the apparatus locks your hips into place, your lumbar spine absorbs all of the pressure. Do some bird-dog extensions instead. These require getting onto all fours on the floor with your head in neutral spine position. Once you tighten your abs and feel securely balanced, extend one arm forward and the opposing leg backward. Keeping your abs tight for balance, hold the pose for ten seconds before gently returning to the start position. Repeat this movement 4 to 6 times on both sides.
- Side Planks – Avoid doing side bends on the back extension chair at your health club. This exercise risks compressing and even herniating a disc when forcing the load unevenly over one side of the spine. ACE suggests replacing this exercise with the side plank. While lying on the side, and leaning on one forearm with the elbow directly below the shoulder lift the hips off the ground while propped onto the edge of the heels. With a tight core, hold the pose for approximately 10 seconds before repeating for a total of 6 to 10 times on each side.
Before trying any new exercise routines, or including new moves into a prescribed physical therapy routine for you back pain treatment plan, be sure to seek your doctor’s advice. While certain core exercises can certainly improve your health, and strengthen the abdominals and spinal erectors (supporting muscles), if you have already been diagnosed with a spine condition like herniated disc or degenerative disc disease, only your spine specialist can tell you whether these will be helping or hurting your back.