Slipped Disc: Exercises for Pain Relief

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on September 25, 2023
4 min read

A slipped disc — also called a herniated, bulged, or ruptured disc — is a painful condition. While your spine can handle a lot of twisting, flexing, and supporting, it may give you trouble at some point in your life. Each bone in your spine is surrounded by shock-absorbing discs, and these discs are often the ones to blame for your pain. 

When the soft spongy center comes through a crack or tear in the outer layer of the disc, it can lead to pain in your back, neck, hips, legs, or buttocks, depending on which disc is affected. Not all slipped discs cause pain, but the majority will. You might also experience tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness, which can make daily activities more difficult.

To help your spinal disc heal, you want to take it easy and avoid overexertion, especially right away. But while bed rest was a common suggestion in the past, it is not the course of action that doctors advise today. Gentle exercise is now the recommended way to get pain relief for a slipped disc, helping your spine heal and return to a healthy state while you keep your body moving.

Lying down or sitting for long periods doesn't do your body any good, and it doesn't help your body deal with a slipped disc. In fact, it might make your condition worse or lead to an extended recovery period. Physical activity can help your back heal while helping maintain or improve your overall health. 

It takes time to heal from a slipped disc. Some people heal in a couple of weeks, while others need a couple of months before their pain and stiffness goes away. 

Since a slipped disc can cause a lot of pain, you don't want to start in too quickly with exercise. Begin slowly and assess how your body reacts to each exercise before moving to a new one. It's normal to feel some pain during gentle exercises, but if the pain intensifies or begins in a new area, stop immediately and take a break. Managing your pain will help you find relief and get back to a normal routine.

Knee to Chest Stretches

This exercise helps stretch the muscles along the sides of your body.

Step 1: Carefully lie on your back with your knees bent, using assistance as necessary. 

Step 2: Bring one knee toward you and grasp it with both hands.

Step 3: Pull the knee toward you until you feel a slight stretch in your back, and count to 5.

Step 4. Release your knee and repeat with the other knee. 

You can repeat this process 5 to 10 times per side.

Seated Chair Stretches

Stretching your hamstring muscle helps support your core and back, reducing the strain on your lower spine.

Step 1: Sit in a chair and extend one leg in front of you with your heel to the floor. 

Step 2: Straighten your spine as much as comfort allows, and lean forward over your extended thigh. 

Step 3: Count to 5, and release yourself back to an upright position.

Step 4: Switch legs and repeat on the other side. 

Repeat this exercise 5 times, and as you proceed, try to work up to counting to 15 seconds. 

Kneeling Deep Lunges

Kneeling deep lunges help stretch your hip flexors and hamstrings to relieve pain in your neck or lower back.

Step 1: Carefully kneel on one knee, and extend the other knee in front of you, foot on the floor.

Step 2: Place your hands on top of your extended knee for support.

Step 3: Lift your back knee up off the floor, and hold that position for 5 seconds. 

Step 4. Return your back knee to the floor.

Step 5: Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

Repeat this stretch 3 to 5 times per knee.

Neck Stretches

If your herniated disc is in the cervical region of the spine, you'll want to stretch the muscles in the neck to relieve pressure and pain.

Step 1: Sit upright in a chair and angle your head toward your chest. Count to 5.

Step 2: Raise your head to an upright position.

Step 3: Without twisting your neck, lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and hold for five seconds. 

Step 4: Return to a neutral position and lower your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold for five seconds.

You can repeat this sequence 5 to 10 times, 2 to 3 times a day.

Slipped disc recovery is a slow process, so you want to move through each stretching exercise with careful positioning to avoid any setbacks. Trying to move too quickly may cause additional pain. You should also take care to avoid lifting anything until you know how much weight you can support. Even groceries can be too heavy when you first experience a slipped disc.