Exercises for a Herniated Disc – 4 Exercises to help

Here are 4 exercises I’ve used over the years to relieve herniated disc low back pain. Back injuries suck, especially when you don’t know the cause. The worst part is the uncertainty and your mind always goes to the worst possible scenario. Here are some pain relieving strategies I’ve used over the last decade to get people out of pain quickly and get a jump start towards recovery. 

If you are that concerned with your level of pain and think you need medical help, read up on this post on if you need to go to the emergency room.

4 Exercises for Herniated Disc Pain Relief

Here are the exercises for a herniated disc I’ll cover. Click any one to go directly to it’s instructions

1. Prone Press Ups

1B. Prone on Elbows

2. Cat/Camel (or Cat/Cow?)

2B. All 4’s Belly Breathing

3. The Z-lie

4. Nerve Glides

#1 How to get pain relief from Prone Press Ups

press ups for herniated disc pain

Good for back or leg pain, especially herniated disc pain that is increased with bending/sitting

  • Lay on your stomach
  • Put hands near shoulders and slowly push up
  • At the top, inhale thru the nose, exhale thru the mouth, then return to the start position
  • Perform 5x reps and assess your pain response

PAIN REDUCED? Do 5-10 reps every 2-3 hours or as needed

#1B How to get treat herniated disc pain with Prone On Elbows

great exercise for herniated disc pain

Good if #1 is too aggressive

  • Lay lat on your stomach
  • Prop yourself up on your elbows
  • Hold the position for 30s, up to 1 minute and asses your pain response

PAIN REDUCED? Do 5 reps of 30s every 2-3 hours or as needed

#2 How to get pain relief from Cat Camel

mobility exercise for herniated disc pain

Good for general back pain and stiffness

  • Start on your hands and knees and inhale through the nose
  • Exhale as you round your back by tucking your tailbone
  • Inhale as you return to the start position
  • Do 10 reps as you breathe AND move

PAIN REDUCED? Do 5-10 reps every 2-3 hours or as needed

#2B How to do All 4’s Belly Breathing

pain relief exercise for herniated disc pain

Good for general back pain, especially pain in standing

  • Start on your hands and knees and inhale through the nose
  • Exhale as you round your back by tucking your tailbone under (cat position)
  • STAY in this position as you take a BIG INHALE
  • EXHALE hard and drive MORE into CAT position
  • Repeat 5x (inhale, HARD exhale as you drive into MORE CAT)
  • STAY. IN. CAT. FOR ALL 5 REPS

PAIN REDUCED? Perform as needed for pain relief

#3 How to do The Z-lie for herniated disc pain relief

rest position for herniated disc

Good for when NOTHING ELSE works (sorry)

  • Lay on your back with the legs on a chair or similar surface
  • Try to get the low back flat on the ground
  • The knees may need to be closer to your chest to get the low back flat
  • Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth to promote relaxation
  • Try 5-10 minutes

PAIN REDUCED? Do 5-10 minutes as needed or before any activity you think will increase your pain (grocery story, work, chores, etc.)

#4 How to do Nerve Glides

nerve mobilization for herniated disc

Good exericse for reducing pain and tightness in back of legs from a herniated disc

  • Slouch forward while sitting (START position)
  • AT THE SAME TIME sit up straight and straighten the leg that hurts (FINISH position)
  • Return to the start position (slouch, bend knee)
  • Perform 10 reps

PAIN REDUCED? Do 2 sets of 10-15 reps 2-3x/a day or as needed

Herniated Disc Pain Treatment

The goal of treatment is to start LOADING the injury and see how much YOU can tolerate. That’s the goal of #1 Prone Press Ups and #1A Prone on Elbows.

If you’re too irritated to tolerate this, you’ll likely have to become best friends with #3 The Z-Lie and use it to both relieve pain before AND after activity.

Exercises #2 Cat/Camel and #2B All 4’s Belly Breathing are to keep the area moving so you don’t get too stiff. So, quick fix pain relief.

#4 Nerve Glides are to help reduce the pain and stiffness typically in the back of the legs that comes with an injuried disc or general nerve entrapment pain.

Alternative Pain Relief Tips for a Herniated Disc

I keep these in my back pocket. Some people get back pain relief from them.

  • Heat or ice; heat works for most, ice works for some
  • A warm bath or shower
  • Walking if your pain isn’t worse in standing
  • Over the counter NSAIDs

Prognosis and recovery from herniated disc pain

Here’s the truth that no one wants to hear – the best treatment for a herniated disc is TIME.

You have a tissue injury and it takes time to heal. This is true for all tissues in the body.

Expect a full recovery to take anywhere from 2 to 6 months. The biggest decrease in pain usually comes in the first 1-2 months, maybe even 2-4 weeks, then you’ll have these nagging pains that eventually fade over the months. 

Yeah, it sucks. 

The chances are HIGH that THIS WILL GET BETTER and YOU WILL RECOVER. Try to be as positive as you can.