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Best Exercises for Degenerative Disc Disease

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2020

Spinal discs work like shock absorbers in your back, absorbing the impact from your daily activity. They can wear out as you get older, which in some people causes only mild discomfort, but seriously degrades the quality of life for others. 

Although spinal discs have a tough exterior, their insides are soft and malleable, mostly made of water. Over time the day-to-day wear and tear can cause spinal discs to lose their original shape, like a tire gradually deflating. As their cushioning flattens, your vertebrae may rub directly against each other painfully. This wear and tear of the spine is the basis of degenerative disc disease.

If you have degenerative disc disease, you aren’t alone, and there are ways to help ease your condition through exercise. Start slowly with these exercises and only do what is comfortable for you. Listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.  

Exercises to Help Degenerative Disc Disease

The purpose of these exercises is to manage the discomfort often associated with degenerative disc disease. They mostly target the lower back, hip, and upper leg, aiming to reduce pressure on your vertebrae. 

Hamstring Stretches

This exercise helps the hamstrings, the large muscles in the back of the thigh.  

Step 1: Place your foot onto a raised surface, such as a chair or staircase step. Keep your back straight. 

Step 2: Gradually bend your torso toward your raised foot until you feel a stretch. 

Step 3: Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and then change to the other foot. 

You can repeat this exercise three times. 

Cat Stretch

This is another relatively simple exercise, meant to relieve pressure on your hips and spine. 

Step 1: Start on your hands and knees, hands below the shoulders and knees below the hips. 

Step 2: Now gently arch your back by lowering your neck down toward your chest as far as comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds. 

Step 3: Reverse the motion, elevating your neck toward the ceiling and arching your back in the opposite direction. Hold for 30 seconds. 

You can repeat this exercise between three to five times a day. 

Back Extension

This is an all-purpose back exercise that will help you relieve tense muscles and reduce pain over time. 

Step 1: Lie down on your stomach with your torso raised up and arms extended outward. 

Step 2: With your palms planted against the ground, begin raising your neck and torso higher until you feel the stretch in your lower back and abdominal muscles. 

Step 3: Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and relax. 

Repeat this low-intensity stretch as needed throughout the day. 

Knee to Chest Stretch

This exercise works your lower back muscles and decreases tension in the spine, while also working the hamstrings and hips. 

Step 1: Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs stretched out. 

Step 2: Now carefully raise your right knee up and toward your chest. Keep your other leg straight. 

Step 3: Grab your raised knee with both hands and gently pull it higher toward your chest. Hold this for 30 seconds, release, and repeat for the other leg. 

You can repeat this exercise up to three times per day. 

Bird Dog Stretch

This stretch helps your hips, thighs, and lower back and can be done while resting on any soft surface like a mat or carpet. 

Step 1: Get down on all fours, directing your hands under your shoulders and your knees straight under your hips. 

Step 2: Now extend your right arm outward. 

Step 3: Gradually extend your opposite left leg outward as well. Tighten your core and hold for eight seconds. 

Repeat this exercise for both sides of your body at least three times. 

Safety Considerations

It’s easy to go too far with degenerative disc disease exercises. Take your time as you begin. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t extend the range of motion beyond what’s comfortable.

If you feel any pain, reduce the intensity of the exercise until you find what works for you. Talk to your doctor if you experience any long-lasting discomfort after these workouts.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

ACE Fitness: “5 Exercises to Add to Your Lower Back Exercise Program.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Degenerative Disc Disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Back exercises.”

Mayo Clinic Health System: “Degenerative Disk Disease.”

Medical News Today: “Safe exercises for a herniated disk.”

Spine-Health: “Exercise for Sciatica from a Herniated Disc.”

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