Your back has been hurting for months or years, or you experienced an acute episode and you finally decided to go to the doctor. After an examination and perhaps a CT or MRI scan, it is determined that you have a bulging disc. Exercise, when done properly, can help ease your pain and in some cases may prevent the need for surgical intervention.
Each disc in your spine contains fluid that cushions the spinal column. When the disc wall becomes weak, the fluid can bulge out and press on your sciatic nerve. While the discs themselves do not experience pain, the muscles and nerves around a bulging disc can be excruciatingly painful. Though some cases will ultimately need surgery to resolve the pain, many are helped with proper exercise.
What Can I Do?
With a bulging disc injury, it is important to strengthen your core muscles. Your spinal column itself does not have muscles, so the "core" abdominal and glutteal muscles keep the spine in proper alignment. It is necessary to exercise the core muscles without causing strain on the injured area. There are many good back care classes and physical therapy courses that can teach you how to properly exercise your back. Check with your physician to ensure that you are performing exercises that help your condition.
Blood flow helps cleanse and heal an area of inflammation. The goal is to get blood flowing in the injured area without causing further compression. While many aerobic exercises are high impact, walking, bicycling and swimming are excellent ways to get your blood pumping without the heavy impact on your spine. There are several different stationary bicycle configurations, some may be comfortable, some may increase your pain. An elliptical machine is another low impact way to increase blood flow. Your particular injury will determine which equipment is most comfortable for you.
Once you have warmed up and increased blood flow, it is time to perform exercises that work on the core support muscles. While you can do these without any equipment, there are a few items that can increase your workout efficiency. A large exercise ball works all layers of your abdominal and glutteal muscles. When you sit on the ball and alternately lift the opposing leg and arm, it causes you to use your core muscles to balance. Keeping both feet on the floor, roll the ball to your lower back and find the position to do crunches that works your abdominals, yet doesn't strain your back. Roll the ball to your upper back area, with the area between your shoulders balancing on the ball, your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, feet on the floor and your spine straight. The glutteal muscles should be working to hold you up straight.
A machine such as a Total Gym or Total Trainer allows you to perform squats without straining your back. On this sliding platform type machine, you are at about a 45 degree incline rather than standing straight. Doing squats standing straight, especially if you add weights, can cause spinal compression which is what you must avoid. An inversion table allows you to exercise and decompress your spinal column at the same time. While you are inverted, you can perform abdominal exercises, such as crunches. When you invert, the fluid in your bulging disc is able to flow back into its normal space. This is often temporary, but does provide relief from pain for many people.
Properly stretching your abdominal and glutteal muscles is also important to keeping your back healthy. When you are stretching it is important to be aware and not place compression on your injured area. You can use the ball or lay on the floor to stretch. If you have access to an inversion table, you can stretch while inverted, or just allow the inversion to gently stretch your spine. After experiencing a bulging disc injury, it is essential to remember to stretch on a regular basis. If you must sit or stand for a long period of time, try to work a routine into your day that gets you moving and stretches the area.
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