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Stretches for a herniated disc

I have herniated L3-L4 and have received conflicting info on stretches. I was told by a physical therapist to over exaggerate the arch in my lower back to stretch. A chiropractor told me to never do this, instead lay over a stability ball face down and stretch my back in the opposite direction. I have tried both and the ball is more comfortable. Anyone know about stretches for this condition??

Sun. Nov 12, 6:58pm

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I'm rather surprisedc a PT would give you that advice. Lying on your stomach and gently stretching the back muscles by slightly lifting your shoulders and upper body (while keeping your stomach tight) is a classic stretch for this condition. If you think about what is happening in your spine right now (the gel in the disk is pushing out agaist the spinal cord) it should make sense that arching your back would relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and the over-exagerated bending forward would aggravate it - however this is not the case for all back problems and indeed back problems can be tricky because everyone's body resonds so differently to treatment. Listen to your body - only you can really guage what is happening. If something feels wrong listen to yourself - you are the best judge of what is helping and what isn't right now.

Hamstring stetches are often a great help because they also stretch the muscles in the lower back. A good way to do this is to lie on your back with your knees bent and your body in a neutral position. Tighten your abs and slowly lift one leg straight up while keeping the foot perpendicular to the leg. Loop a towel or exercise band around your foot if it helps. Lift the leg until you feel the muscles 'pull' and then hold it for 15 seconds. Relax and do the other. This is a great way to stretch out the lower back and calves without bending or aggravating the back in any way..

The mayo clinic has some great advice for back problems - I highly recommend their site for some great info.

Best wishes!

Sunday, November 12, 2006, 8:40 PM

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I am a physical therapist and I would recommend the "over-arching" as well. It's just a differnce of opinion between various providers (chiropractors vs. therapists). I would emphasize that these exercises be done prone (on the floor on your stomach) instead of in a standing position, as it is nearly impossible to relax all the trunk muscles while standing. While on the floor, try to prop up on your elbows. You can do this either as a series of repetitions or propping there for a certain amount of time (maybe 30 secs?). It should not greatly increase the pain. Most people experience some relief, either immediately while doing the exercise or shortly afterwards. Once you are able to do this for a couple days, you can progress to propping up on to your hands, while your hips are sagging down touching the floor. The other trick is to try not to do much forward bending at the waist while you're having such back pain, including when getting up off the floor! Maybe try to roll to your side and then push your upper body into an upright position. Other general things that can help (which maybe your PT already told you) is to place a rolled up towel behind your back while driving or sitting, try standing backwards bending but this might cause things to hurt too much if the injury was really recent, and like I said before, avoid as much forward bending as possible (inlcluding lying across the ball). This only causes the gel-like substance to be pushed into the already bulging area. The disk is like a water balloon. Right now the "water" is being pushed backwards and to one side (I'm assuming). Bending forward and/or to the side will only increase this. Bending backwards will "open up" the space between the vertebrae and allow for the "water" to move forward into that available space, thus decreasing the bulge toward the back.

Hope this has helped. I know it's a terrible thing to have back pain and unfortunately, it is SO common. At least you can be thankful that it isn't herniated! Just take it easy and as the previous poster mentioned, listen to what your body is telling you. Good luck!

Sunday, November 12, 2006, 10:31 PM

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Looks like you have some good advice here! Just in general, I would totally believe a physical therapist before a chiropractor. I went for a course of treatment with a chiropractor once, and the guy launched into a 40-minute-long lecture on spinal anatomy -- a lot of which was scarily wrong. Just incorrect!

The course of treatment was unsuccessful, BTW, because my physician had mis-diagnosed my problem, which was two broken vertebrae. No amount of chiropractic was going to fix THAT!


Monday, November 13, 2006, 12:45 AM

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Backward stretching /arching spine with injured disc

Having required surgery following PT that assumed that arching the spine was 'safe," I investigated the issue of whether a lumbar spine should be "lordosed" or "flattened" in order to protect discs that may be herniated or protruding. One thing I want to mention is this: if a patient has spinal stenosis, accentuating the curvature of the spine is a very bad idea. The safety of motion is not a universal thing; it should be determined with reference to specific tests, images, and other data related to the patient herself. Not all people can, or should, do all things; and what is "good" for one patient can be "dangerous" for another.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 11:43 AM

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