Herniated Disc Pain? 5 Key Exercises to Help

Like most back pain conditions, gentle exercise is part of the treatment for a herniated disc. Part I below has 5 exercises that can help your herniated disc-related back pain. 

It may also be helpful for you to have more information about herniated discs in general. Part II contains an explanation of herniated discs including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Part I: 5 Exercises For Back Pain Due To A Herniated Disc

The 5 exercises are:

  1. Standing Lumbar Extension

  2. Standing Row with Resistance Band

  3. Prone on Elbows

  4. Cobra Pose

  5. Sciatic Nerve Floss

In order to get the most benefit, you should perform these exercises 3 to 5 times a week for 3 weeks.

Exercise 1: Standing Lumbar Extension

Why it’s beneficial:  It helps to lessen the pressure on the discs in your back.


  1. Stand up tall

  2. Put your hands on your hips

  3. Gently push hips forward to extend your lower back

  4. Hold for 2-3 seconds

  5. Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions

Exercise 2: Standing Row with Resistance Band (special elastic band)

Why it’s beneficial:  Can help to lessen pain.


  1. Attach the band to something stable, like a doorknob or a staircase post.

  2. Stand up tall with your feet hips width apart and your knees slightly bent;  grasp the end of the band with both of your hands.

  3. Pull the band towards you, bending your elbows. Try to keep your forearms parallel with the floor.

  4. Repeat 10 times. Rest of a few moments, then repeat 10 more times.

Exercise 3: Prone on Elbows

Why it’s beneficial:  It helps realign the discs.


  1. Lie on your abdomen.

  2. Place your hands on the floor near your shoulders.

  3. Push up, raising your back and shoulders; keep your forearms on the floor.

  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  5. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

Exercise 4: Cobra Pose

Why it’s beneficial:  You can progress from Prone on Elbows to Cobra pose, a popular yoga pose.

Important: Cobra Pose is an advanced version of prone on elbows. If you cannot perform prone on elbows, do not advance to this exercise.


  1. Lie on your stomach with both hands on the floor near your chest;  slowly straighten both arms so that your head, chest, and shoulders are off the floor.

  2. Hold for 10 seconds.

  3. Lower your head, chest,  and shoulders.

  4. Repeat 5 to 10 times. 

Exercise 5: Sciatic Nerve Floss


  1. Sit on a chair with your arms by your sides and your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

  2. Bend your neck by placing your chin on your chest and bend forward at your torso.

  3. While extending your chest and neck slowly straighten one leg as much as you can, while flexing your ankle. NOTE: You may not be able to completely straighten your leg without pain or other symptoms.

  4. Return to the starting position.

  5. You should complete 2 sets of 10 on the affected side.

Part II: What You Need to Know About Herniated Discs

Jump to:

What Are Discs?

Discs are the cushions between each bone of the spine (vertebra). The twenty-five discs act as shock absorbers, protecting the vertebrae. They also help support the spine and allow movement. 

Discs have three main parts: the inner part called the nucleus pulposus; the tough outer portion called the annulus fibrosus; and the endplates, made of cartilage.

The discs are located very near the spinal cord and nerve roots. 

  • The spinal cord is surrounded by the vertebra. 

  • The nerve roots branch off of the spinal cord, go through holes in the vertebrae and extend to other parts of the body.

What Is A Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc (also called  bulging disc or a compressed disc) occurs when one of the discs is out of its normal position. Specifically, the nucleus pulposus, the inner part, pushes on the annulus fibrosis, the outer part. When this happens the spinal cord and nerve roots may be affected.

The condition is often an outcome of natural, age-related wear and tear, also known as disk degeneration.  Herniated discs may result from an accident or injury to the back. Minor injuries or simple movements may also result in disc herniation. 

Disc herniation is most common in the lower back (lumbar spine), followed by the neck (cervical spine), but it can occur anywhere along the spine.

What Are The Risk Factors For A Herniated Disc?

The risk factors include:
  • Age:  back pain from herniated discs is most common in people who are in their 30s to 50s.

  • Sex: men are twice as likely when compared to women.

  • Smoking

  • Heavy lifting

What Are The Symptoms of A Herniated Disc?

Herniated disc symptoms vary. They depend on the position of the disc, the degree of herniation, and the level of the spine affected. 

The disc may press on the nearby nerve roots (pinched nerve) or spinal cord causing symptoms. A person may not have any symptoms or they may have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. 

The symptoms of disc herniation in the lumbar spine may include sciatica (also called lumbar radiculopathy) or numbness, weakness, and/or tingling or other sensations in the leg and/or foot; pain in the lower back and/or buttocks; and pain in the leg and/or foot. Symptoms of disc herniation in the cervical spine are similar, but they affect the neck, arm, and hand.

A person with a disc problem in the lower back may also have difficulty bending forward at the waist and worsening pain when sitting or straining, or with sudden movements (e.g. coughing, sneezing).

How Is A Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a herniated disc is usually based on a person’s medical history, symptoms, and physical examination. The exam focuses on the musculoskeletal and neurologic systems. Tests like the straight leg raise test, to check for disc problems in the lower back, may be done.

MRI or CT imaging tests are recommended when a person has severe or worsening neurologic symptoms or when other serious conditions are possible. Imaging studies are also done in preparation for injections or surgery.

What Is The Treatment for A Herniated Disc?

The treatment for symptomatic cervical and lumbar disc herniation is usually conservative - it does not involve surgery. It may include medicines, like anti-inflammatories, physical therapy including exercises, as well as education about self-care. 

Spinal injections are also a non-surgical option. They may be recommended for short-term pain relief. Most people have relief from pain and other symptoms with conservative treatment.

Surgery is recommended for only a small number of people with herniated disc disease. It may be appropriate when a person continues to have severe or worsening pain or neurologic symptoms. There are both minimally-invasive and open surgery techniques.

As mentioned, exercise is a part of treatment for a herniated disc. The type and method of the exercise is important in order to support recovery and to avoid further injury. 

There are many different exercises to help with back pain due to a herniated disc. We provide 5 effective ones. Also, you may know of other ways to perform these exercises. We provide one method for each.

Related article: 6 Exercises for Sciatica or Sciatica-Related Back Pain

How Goodpath Can Help

It takes lifestyle modifications and real dedication to reduce pain (especially chronic pain) for good. These exercises are a step in the right direction. 

At Goodpath, we’re here to help. Take our back pain assessment now, and we can build an integrative plan specifically for you and your needs. Your program may include:

  • Personalized exercise videos. Led by one of our physical therapists,  we will recommend specific exercises depending on your symptoms and condition.

  • Supplements and over-the-counter medicines

  • Mind-body techniques

  • Nutritional support