Functional Exercises for Herniated Disk Rehabilitation

A herniated disk is a common condition where the outer ring of the spinal disk ruptures, and the inner material bulges out, causing pain, numbness, and weakness. Rehabilitation exercises are essential in managing and recovering from a herniated disk. A range of exercises can help to strengthen the core muscles and improve flexibility, gait, and balance. By reconditioning the body, functional exercises can reduce the risk of herniated disk recurrence, improve quality of life and prevent further injuries.

What Type of Exercises are Good for Herniated Disc?

Generally, exercises that relieve pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, maintain range of motion, and strengthen the core muscles are suitable for herniated disk patients. Low-impact, aerobic, and functional exercises are recommended as they improve circulation, increase endorphins levels (the body’s natural painkillers), and reduce stress.

Exercises to Manage Herniated Disk Symptoms


Walking is an excellent low-impact aerobic exercise that promotes circulation, reduces stiffness, and strengthens the core muscles. Patients should start with shorter distances and gradually increase the duration and distance. Walking on a flat surface, avoiding hills, stairs, and uneven terrain is recommended.


Swimming or water aerobics are ideal exercises for herniated disk patients because they provide a full-body workout without straining the back muscles. The buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on the joints, and the resistance improves the strength of the muscles.


Cycling on a recumbent or upright bike improves cardiovascular performance, increases flexibility, strengthens the leg muscles, and engages the core muscles. Patients should adjust the seat height and handlebars to their comfort level and avoid hunching over the handlebars, which can affect the posture.

Low-Impact Aerobics

Aerobics include exercises such as dancing, step aerobics, and kickboxing, which strengthen the core muscles, improve flexibility, coordination, and balance. Low-impact aerobics are less demanding on joints and muscles and are recommended for herniated disk patients.

Yoga and Stretching

Yoga and stretching improve flexibility, balance, and mental health. Patients should avoid poses that involve forward bending or twisting, as these can further injure the herniated disk. Gentle yoga poses like Cobra, Child’s pose, and Cat-and-Cow can help to strengthen the spine and relieve pain.

Core Strengthening Exercises

Core strengthening exercises improve posture, balance, and stability. The following exercises target the core muscles and can help to alleviate pain and prevent future injuries. Patients should start with a few repetitions and gradually increase as their strength and stamina improve.


Starting in push-up position, bend your elbows, placing your forearms on the ground. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.


Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Raise your hips off the ground, keeping your shoulders and feet on the ground. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.


Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs extended. Lift your arms, chest, and legs off the ground, hold for 15-30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

Bird Dog

Start on your hands and knees with your wrists beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Slowly lift your right arm and left leg until they are in line with your spine. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is running good for a herniated disk?

Running can be stressful on the back muscles and joints; therefore, it’s not recommended for herniated disk patients. Instead, low-impact aerobic exercises are better suited, such as biking, walking, or swimming.

Q. Can I lift weights with a herniated disk?

Heavy lifting or weightlifting can put excessive strain on the back muscles and discs, causing further damage to the herniated disk. It’s best to avoid lifting heavy weights until the injury has healed and focus on strengthening the core muscles and aerobic exercises.

Q. How long does it take for a herniated disk to heal?

The healing process varies depending on the extent of damage and medical management. In some cases, it can take up to six weeks for the inflammation to subside, and the body to reabsorb the disk material. Rehabilitation exercises and physical therapy can help to accelerate the healing process.

Q. Will I need surgery for a herniated disk?

Surgery is not always necessary for herniated disks; most people improve with conservative treatments such as pain medications, rehabilitation exercises, and physical therapy. In severe cases where patients have significant neurological impairment or do not respond to conservative treatments, surgery may be necessary.


Herniated disks can cause significant pain, discomfort, and immobility to patients, making it difficult to perform daily activities. However, with proper management, including exercise, rest, and medical treatment, patients can recover and resume normal lives. Functional exercises, such as low-impact aerobics, yoga, and core strengthening exercises, are beneficial in reducing pain, improving flexibility, restoring posture, and preventing further injuries. Patients should consult with their healthcare providers before starting any exercise regimen to ensure safety and effectiveness.

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