The 7 Best Exercises for a Bulging Disc

Once diagnosed with a bulging disc, it may be difficult to know what to do next. Treatment options vary, but there are exercises and stretches that can be done at home to help reduce pain and decrease symptoms of a bulging disc. 

Taking the time to stretch and exercise for a bulging disc can mean the difference between constant pain and relief. Try these seven exercises for your bulging disc and see a change in the condition!


What Is a Bulging Disc?

A bulging disc is when the outer shell of a disc in your spine weakens and the disc flattens or bulges to one side of the spinal canal. Consider the discs in your spine to be jelly donuts. If you flatten one side of the donut, the jelly will squirt out the other side. This is similar to when a spinal disc gets injured through a fall, accident, or just regular wear on your back. 

Symptoms of a bulging disc may include pain in your neck, shoulder, arm, chest, lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet. Upper injuries may lead to weakness in your arms or fingers as well as numbness and tingling sensations. Lower injuries could lead to sciatic pain that shoots down your back and legs. 

Pain and other symptoms of a bulging disc arise because the bulging disc is rubbing against nerves that run along the spinal cord. You may only feel symptoms on one side of your body if the disc is rubbing against only the right or left side of your spinal cord. 

While exercises will not cure your bulging disc, it can reduce inflammation, causing pain to ease off or disappear completely; however, that disc will always be weaker and may cause more problems in the future. 


How Is a Bulging Disc Traditionally Treated?

Symptoms of a bulging disc can be treated to address the pain; however, if the pain does not respond to these treatments, surgical options are available. They include:

  • Laminectomy: Removal of a portion of the lamina (back part of the vertebrae that covers the spinal canal) to create room for the bulging disc
  • Laminotomy: Spinal decompression surgery involving removal of a miniscule portion of the lamina to access a disc herniation and take pressure off of the nerves
  • Disc Replacement: Removal of the disc and replacement with an artificial disc to preserve motion at the disc location. 
  • Anterior Cervical Disc Fusion (ACDF): The damaged disc in the neck is removed and a reinforced implant is positioned in its place
  • Lumbar Fusion: For the lower back, the damaged disc can be removed and the two vertebrae can be fused together with a reinforced implant to provide support.
  • Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA): High-energy radio frequencies are used to remove the problematic nerve, which will eradicate the sensation of pain


Does Stretching Help a Bulging Disc?

Numerous alternatives are available that help reduce pain and other symptoms caused by a bulging disc, helping you avoid surgical options. 

Ice and heat can help relieve symptoms. Try placing an ice pack on the area where the bulging disc is located. Keep it on for twenty minutes and then remove it for twenty minutes in a continuous cycle. You can alternate between ice and heat, as a heating pad on your back will reduce stiffness. 

Try not to remain immobile for long periods. It’s good to take short walks throughout the day to loosen the muscles in your back.

Over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, will help reduce inflammation and pain associated with a bulging disc. 

Stretching exercises will help reduce symptoms of a bulging disc not only by loosening back muscles, but also by strengthening them. Spinal discs may lose stability when they bulge, due to the slackening of the ligaments connected to each bony segment on either side of the disc. While the ligaments cannot be strengthened with exercise, the muscles around the spine can. Regular exercise and stretching can help make up for the lack of stability and improve posture, increase core strength, and reduce pain.


What Exercises Are Good For a Bulging Disc?

There are many exercises which help a bulging disc, including gentle activities like:

  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling

Always maintain slow and controlled movements, particularly when bending or lifting, to prevent further damage to your back. If you feel pain, stop exercising immediately and seek medical assistance.. 

Below are the eight best exercises you can try for a bulging disc.

One: Spinal Decompression Hang

  1. Use a bar or cabinet to stretch your spine. If you have something sturdy enough, you can let your body simply hang, and you’ll feel that stretch in your back. 
  2. Hang for 30 seconds and stop. Repeat three times. 

Watch here:

Two: Plank

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor.
  2. Lift your body so that your weight is resting on your forearms and toes.
  3. Hold for a minimum of ten seconds, aiming for up to thirty seconds.
  4. Return to resting position.
  5. Complete five to ten reps

See the proper form here:

Three: Half Cobra Stretch

  1. Lie on your stomach and with your elbows on the ground and your hips in contact with the floor. Your upper body should be raised off the ground.
  2. Hold this position for ten to fifteen seconds before lying face down on the ground in the prone position.
  3. Gradually increase the time you hold yourself up until you reach 30 seconds and can perform ten repetitions.
  4. Once you master this exercise, you can try the full cobra stretch by going up onto your hands to challenge yourself even more.

View this stretch here:

Four: Cat-Cow Stretch

  1. Sometimes called the camel stretch, you begin this exercise on your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Inhale and lower your stomach as you look up to the ceiling.
  3. Exhale and arch your spine while curving your neck to look at your feet.
  4. Try for ten repetitions and two to three sets.

Watch this exercise here: 

Five: Bird Dog Stretch

  1. Begin on the floor on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips.
  2. Reach your left arm forward until it is parallel with your body while simultaneously lifting your right leg back until it is also aligned with your body, forming a line from finger tip to toe.
  3. Hold this position for two to three seconds before returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat with your right arm and left leg.
  5. Complete ten repetitions and two to three sets.

View this stretch here:

Six: Knee Hugs

  1. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and both feet on the floor.
  2. Place both hands behind one knee and pull it towards your chest.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other knee.
  4. Return to the starting position and then repeat with both knees at the same time pulled to your chest.
  5. Do five reps.

See this exercise here:

Seven: Piriformis Stretch

  1. Lie on your back on the floor with both knees bent and feet on the floor.
  2. Cross one leg over the other with your ankle on your bent knee.
  3. Gently pull the crossed knee towards the opposite shoulder, feeling a stretch in the buttock.
  4. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds before returning to the starting position.
  5. Do both sides three times.

Watch here:

Can a Chiropractor Help With a Bulging Disc?

Your chiropractor can help realign your spine and ease pressure on your bulging disc. It’s a good idea to visit your chiropractor if you’ve been diagnosed with a bulging disc, because he or she can help ease the pain and direct you to resources that your medical doctor may not have provided. Schedule an appointment with us online or call us today to soothe your back pain today.

Dr. Tim Swift proudly serves San Clemente, San Juan, Dana Point, and the surrounding areas of Orange County, California.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.

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Dr. Tim Swift

Dr. Tim Swift combines his chiropractic expertise with regenerative medicine to bring a passion for restoring health, mobility, and vitality to help his community feel and function better.


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