Bulged Disc Exercises (Lower Back)

This blog post will cover the best bulged disc exercises for the lower back. (especially if the L4, L5 and/or S1 is involved!)

(These exercises may also be used for a disc herniation, protrusion, prolapse, extrusion and/or sequestration.)

Bulged Disc Exercises For the Lower Back

The following exercises are to be performed completely PAIN-FREE. If any doubts, please consult a health professional to assess whether the exercises are appropriate for you.

STEP 1: Understand This
STEP 2: Stop Aggravation
STEP 3: Reduce Inflammation
STEP 4: Perform Gentle Movements
STEP 5: Reduce Disc Bulge
STEP 6: Decompress Back
STEP 7: Core Exercises
STEP 8: Strengthening Exercises
STEP 9: Prevention
STEP 10: Surgical Options

Step 1: Understand this

It is important to note that just because your imaging scan results show that you have a disc bulge (or Herniated Disc) in your spine, it does not necessarily mean that you will have lower back pain (or Sciatica) for the rest of your life.

… Disc bulges can naturally heal with time!

(Please take some comfort in knowing this.)

Note:  Interestingly enough – it is possible to have a bulged disc present and have absolutely no pain at all!

Step 2: Stop All Activities That Cause Pain

StopModify or Reduce exposure to any movement/position/activity that makes your symptoms significantly worse.

The continual exposure to aggravating activities may increase the inflammation (and irritability) of your disc bulge.

Generally speaking – The aim is to remain as active as possible without exceeding the capacity of what the lower back can comfortably tolerate.

For example: Sitting

  • Stop: If your pain worsens as soon as you adopt the sitting position, try to completely avoid sitting altogether for now.
  • Modify: Try sitting with a different posture, use a different chair, use a lumbar support etc.
  • Reduce Exposure: Minimize the amount of time that you are in the seated position.

Common Aggravating Activities

  • Prolonged sitting
  • Bending forwards
  • Lifting an object from the floor
  • Coughing/Sneezing
  • Getting out of bed/chair/toilet/car

Step 3: Reduce Inflammation

A significant amount of inflammation (… and pain!) in the Lumbar spine can make it difficult to perform the suggested Bulged Disc Exercises effectively.

Here are some simply ways to reduce inflammation:

a) Anti-Inflammatory Gel

Apply an anti-inflammatory gel to the lower back region for 2-3 times per day.

b) Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs help reduce inflammation in the whole body.

There are different strengths/dosages of NSAIDs and is best used if the prescribed medication is appropriate to the amount of inflammation present.

(Note: Please consult your medical doctor if you are considering taking any medication.)

c) Cold Therapy

Apply an ice pack to your lower back for at least 10-15 minutes, 3-5/day.

(Note: You can switch to using a heat pack after 2-3 days of using a cold pack.)

d) Natural Products

Foods such as turmeric, curcumin, ginger, chia seeds and fish oil capsules are thought to help naturally reduce inflammation in the body.

e) Cortisone Injection

The cortisone injection consists of a strong anti-inflammatory steroid (cortisone) and an analgesic substance.

It is designed to reduce local inflammation around the bulged disc.

Step 4: Gentle movement exercises

The aim with these initial exercises is to move the lower back as much as you can comfortably tolerate.

a) Walking

Walking is a great way to keep your body moving whilst you are experiencing symptoms associated with a disc bulge.

Aim to stay active and mobile as much as possible.

If you are unable to walk long distances, consider walking in a heated pool (Hydrotherapy) or walk shorter distances more frequently.

(READ THIS: Avoid excessive bed rest as this has the potential to make your symptoms worse in the long term!)

b) Lumbar Roll

stretch for bulging disc in lower back


  • Lie on your back with your knees in the bent position.
  • Let your knees drop all the way down to one side.
  • Move as much as your symptoms will allow you.
  • Alternate sides.
  • Repeat 20 times.

c) Knees To Chest

knees to chest stretch


  • Lie down on the floor.
  • Hug both knees towards your chest.
  • Completely relax your legs and allow the arms to take the full weight of the legs.
  • Perform gentle oscillations in this position.
  • Move as much as your symptoms will allow you.
  • Continue for 20 seconds.

Note: If desired, you can perform this exercise using one knee at a time.

d) Standing Extension

standing lumbar spine extension


  • Stand up right.
  • Place your hands on your hips.
  • Start to slowly arch your lower back backwards.
  • Move as much as your symptoms will allow you.
  • Aim to feel a gentle tension across your lower back. No pain should be experienced.
  • Repeat 20 times.

e) Standing Side Bends

standing side bending


  • Stand up right.
  • Slowly bend towards one side.
  • Make sure that you only go far as you are comfortable.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Step 5: Exercises to help reduce the disc bulge

These extension-based exercises are designed to reduce the size of a posterior disc bulge (L4/5 and L5/S1 being the most common).

As the movement becomes more comfortable whilst performing the exercises, try to move further into range.

a) Lumbar Extension (Static hold)

lower back extension


  • Lie down on your stomach
  • Rest on your forearms.
  • Keep your lower back and legs relaxed.
  • Slowly arch backwards.
  • Only go as high as you can comfortably tolerate.
  • You should feel a gentle tension across your lower back. No pain should be experienced.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) McKenzie Extension (Repeated movements)

repeated lumbar extension bulged disc exercise


  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Use your forearms to slowly arch backwards as high as you can comfortably tolerate.
  • You should feel a gentle tension across your lower back. No pain should be experienced.
  • Keep your lower back relaxed. All the power should be coming from your arms.
  • Repeat 20 times.

c) Pelvic Tilts

pelvic tilt in supine


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Slowly tilt your pelvis forwards.
    • “Create an arch in your lower back.”
  • Aim to feel a contraction in your lower back.
  • Relax back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 20 times.

d) Pelvic Tilt (4 point kneel)

pelvic tilt in 4 point kneel


  • Assume the 4 point kneel position. (see above)
  • Gently tilt your pelvis forwards.
  • As you perform this, you should feel the lower back contract.
  • Relax back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Step 6: Spinal Decompression (Traction)

The aim of the following exercises is to reduce pressure/compression on the bulged disc.

a) Manual Traction

lumbar spine traction


  • Lie down on the floor.
  • Instruct someone to hold onto both of your ankles and apply a gentle pulling action on your legs.
  • Keep your legs completely relaxed.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Note: If you find that you are sliding, perform the exercise on a tiled floor and have the skin on the lower back in contact with the floor. (This will help stick you to the floor!)

b) Chair Hover

spinal decompression at home


  • You will need 2 chairs for this exercise.
  • Hold onto the top of the chairs. (See above)
  • Slowly apply more pressure into your hands as to take pressure off your feet.
  • Keep your legs and lower torso completely relaxed.
  • You do not have to lift your feet off the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

c) Decompression Over Ball

(Note: This position may not be suitable for those who are sensitive when bending the lower back.)

lumbar spine decompression exercise for bulged disc


  • Lie on top of a large exercise ball. (Facing downwards)
  • Position your body so that your lower back is in line with the top of the ball.
  • Completely relax your legs and allow them to dangle.
    • Let the weight of your legs pull on the lower back.
  • Support your body using your hands only.
  • Allow the toes to gently rest on the floor.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the lower back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

If you would like to know other ways to decompress your lower back:

See Post: Spinal Decompression Exercises

Step 7: Core Exercises

Strengthening your core muscles will help control your lower back and reduce pressure on the discs.

Muscles Targeted:

  • Transversus Abdominis
  • Multifidus
  • Diaphragm (Breathing muscle)

a) How To Activate The Core

core activation

Instructions: “Take a deep breath in through your nose. Slowly exhale (through your mouth) ALL of the air out of your lungs. As you completely empty out your lungs, take notice of how your stomach muscles have engaged. Draw your stomach in to maintain this contraction.”

It is important to FEEL the contraction of these muscles so that you can effectively apply it to your strengthening exercises in Step 8.

b) Dead Bug Exercise

(Target Muscle: Transversus Abdominis)

transversus abdominis strengthening exercise


  • Lie on your back with both of your knees bent in the air.
  • Engage the Core muscles:
    • Aim to feel a slight tension in the abdominal region.
  • Rotate your pelvis backwards.
    • This is to flatten your lower back.
  • Maintain this lower back position throughout this exercise.
  • Slowly lower the opposite arm/leg.
    • Lower the better! (… but only if you can keep the lower back FLAT!)
  • Alternate sides.
  • Repeat 20 times.

c) Bird/Dog

(Target Muscle: Multifidus)


  • Assume the 4 point kneel position. (see above)
  • Engage the Multifidus muscle:
    • “Imagine a string from the lower back to the back of your pubic bone. Shorten this string towards the pubic bone.”
    • Aim to feel a slight tension in your lower back.
  • Slowly lift your opposite arm/leg without letting your pelvis tilt.
    • Imagine that there is a glass of water on your back. Don’t spill it!
  • Alternate legs.
  • Do not hold your breathe during this exercise.
  • Repeat 20 times on each side.

d) Plank

plank core exercise


  • Get into the plank position. (see above)
  • Position your pelvis in a neutral position.
  • Engage the core and glute muscles to stabilize the pelvis.
  • Make sure your lower back does NOT sink down towards the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

e) Side Plank

side plank exercise


  • Get into the side plank position. (see above)
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Note: Be aware that this exercises also places more stress to the shoulder.

Step 8: strengthening exercises for Herniated Disc

Strengthening the muscles that control and/or influence the lower back will help reduce pressure on the disc bulge.

a) Bridge

(This exercise will strengthen the Gluteal muscles.)

exercises for herniated disc


  • Lie on your back with knees bent.
  • Engage your glutes to tilt your pelvis backwards.
    • This should flatten your lower back onto the ground.
  • Engage your core muscles.
  • Push through your heels and drive your hips upwards.
  • Aim to feel the contraction in your gluteal muscles.
  • Only go as high as you can go without arching your lower back.
  • Hold the end position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

b) Arm/Leg Lift

(This exercise will strengthen the Erector Spinae muscles.)

strengthening bulged disc exercises


  • Lie on your stomach.
  • Stretch out both arms in front of you.
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Lift up the opposite arm/leg as high as possible.
  • Aim to feel a contraction in the muscles of the lower back.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.
  • Repeat 20 times.
  • Progression: Lift both legs and arms at the same time.

c) Seated Rotation (with resistance)

(This exercise will strengthen the muscles that rotate the torso.)

lumbar rotation strengthening exercise


  • Sit up right on a chair.
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Using both hands, hold onto a resistance band that is anchored towards the side. (see above)
  • Rotate your torso away from the anchor point.
    • Breathe out as you do this.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.
  • Repeat for opposite direction.

d) Side Bends

(This exercise will strengthen your Obliques.)

obliques strengthening exercise


  • Stand up right.
  • Hold onto weights in your hands.
    • Use a suitable amount of weight.
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Proceed to bend all the way to the side.
  • Make sure that you do not twist your body.
  • Alternate sides.
  • Repeat 20 times.

e) Crunches

(This exercise will strengthen the Abdominal muscles.)

abdominal strengthening exercise


  • Lie down on the floor with the knees bent.
  • Gently support the back of your head with your hands.
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Crunch forwards.
    • Only lift high enough so that your shoulder blades are off the floor.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

Step 9: Prevention

Once symptoms have subsided following the bulged disc exercises, it is essential that an effort is made to reduce the risk of any re-aggravations in the future.

By now, you should have a good idea of what positions, movements and/or activities your lower back is more sensitive in.

These are the positions/movements that you will need to exercise more care with in the future.

Common positions that will aggravate the lower back:

a) Bending Forwards

bending forwards lower back pain

Engage the core muscles if you need to bend your lower back.

This will help control the lower back more effectively and potentially reduce the risk of a re-aggravation.

Remember – activate the core muscles just enough to allow you to do the movement confidently and safely. (Do NOT over-contract them!)

b) Lifting From The Floor

If you need to pick up a heavy object from a lower height, aim to use the Hinge pattern. (see below)

hinge lifting technique


  • Keep your lower back in a neutral position throughout this movement.
  • Engage the core muscles.
  • Slowly lower your torso by hinging at the hips.
    • Only go as low as you can maintain the neutral lower back position.
    • Aim to feel a pulling sensation in the upper hamstring region before returning to the starting position.
    • Keep the hands close to your body.
    • The knees should be slightly bent.
  • Do not allow your lower back to round forwards.

(Alternatively – You can assume a lunge or squat position to pick things up from the floor.

c) Sitting Posture

how to sit with bulged disc

When sitting – make sure that your pelvis is in the neutral position.


  • Locate the “Sit bones”:
    • Whilst sitting down, slide both hands underneath your hips.
    • Feel for a bony prominence.
  • Tilt your pelvis forwards and backwards.
    • As you are doing this, feel for when the pointiest part of the bone protrudes into your hand.
    • This corresponds to when your pelvis is in the neutral position.
  • Visualize these bones as upside down triangles.
    • The aim is to sit directly on top of the point of the triangle.

Note: Most people tend to sit in a position of a posterior pelvic tilt which is where the tail bone is tucked underneath.

This leads to the lower back rounding forwards which can potentially place more pressure on the discs in the lumbar spine.

d) Prolonged Positions

It is important to take a break from any positions (such as sitting, standing and being bent over) that is sustained over a long period of time.

Aim to take a break at least every 20 minutes.

e) How do you sleep with a bulging disc?

Ultimately – the best sleeping position is whatever position that you can adopt to get quality sleep without waking up with significant amount of symptoms.

However – that being said, I would encourage you to sleep with your lower back in a more neutral position.

A prolonged amount of time in a twisted, bent, over extended or tilted position may aggravate your symptoms.

I recommend the following:

Sleep On Your BACK

sleeping position with lower back pain

This sleeping position encourages the most symmetry in your spine.

Additionally, you can place pillows underneath the knees to take some pressure off the lower back.

(Note: If your lower back is sensitive in this position, you may need to place a rolled up towel underneath your lower back to keep your lower back in a degree of extension.

Sleep On Your SIDE

side sleeping posture back pain

As many people do not feel comfortable sleeping on the back, the next best position is on the side.

Consider the following:

  • Place a pillow between your legs to prevent the upper leg from rotating your body.
  • Support your upper arm on top of a thick pillow to prevent the torso from twisting.
  • Support your head with a pillow with an appropriate height to encourage the neutral position of the spine.
  • Place a small rolled up towel underneath the side of the waist to minimize side bending of the spine.
  • Make sure that the mattress is not too firm as this will encourage more side bending of the spine.

(Also – make sure that your mattress is providing adequate support.)

f) Exercises to avoid with Bulging Disc

Exercises that involve forward bending of the lower back should be avoided in the short term.

Please be careful with:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Bent over rows
  • Jumping
  • Quick change in direction
  • High impact sports

As your lower back improves, consider re-introducing the above exercises to gradually increase the strength and load tolerance of your lower back structures.

Step 10: Surgery for bulged disc

If you have persisted with these bulged disc exercises for at least 6 months and your symptoms are still quite significant, then the next option may be a surgical review with the Orthopedic surgeon.

I’ll be very honest with you and say that I am not the biggest fan of surgical intervention as an immediate response to lower back pain.

However – in some severe cases where all other conservative management has failed, it may be the next appropriate action to take.

Symptoms that may require a more urgent review with a specialist:

  • Severe pain
  • Unable to walk
  • Neurological symptoms (Burning pain, tingling, numbness) in the leg
  • Bowel/Bladder issues
  • Severe weakness in legs

Surgical Options include:

  • Laminectomy
  • Foraminotomy
  • Discectomy
  • Disc Replacement
  • Fusion

It is best to discuss what surgical option is appropriate for your lower back with the Orthopedic surgeon.

Closing words

Remember – The presence of a disc bulge found on imaging scans DOES NOT necessarily mean that you’ll have pain for the rest of your life!

I believe that the bulged disc exercises mentioned in this blog post will help fast-track the healing process.

Keep active and moving, get your lower back as strong as possible and exercise caution when doing the more riskier movements.

What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!

Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Use of the content provided on this blog post is at your sole risk. Seek guidance from a healthcare professional before starting any exercise. For more information: Medical disclaimer.

19 thoughts on “Bulged Disc Exercises (Lower Back)”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these exercises. I hurt my back pretty bad trying to install new cabinet doors. Luckily, I found an N-Hance cabinet door replacement< service to finish up my kitchen, and I found your exercises to help me strengthen and improve my back. Thanks again!

  2. hello, Mark. just found this blog. I do know all of these exercises as I was a fitness enthusiast and personal trainer certified. I had to stop because of serious lumbar issues. not only do I have bulging disc that like to rear their ugly heads often as of late, but I also have degenerated disc as well. I am tall, I have small bones and also osteoporosis in the spine and osteopenia in hips. even though I was very active, that did nothing to stop these things from happening. I also have a cyst, possible tarlov, in my tailbone that has been there for about 15 years but seems to be getting worse. I do not want to have surgery but am at a loss as to what may help that. I use lumbar support and support pillows when sleeping. maybe there is nothing for it. I get no help from doctors or pain management. I am also 66 yrs old. thank you for all you do

  3. Mark – for a herniated disc that’s resulted in a lateral shift – are side glides on a wall good to do if the pain is on the same side as the shift? (Shoulders shifted to left / pain lower back left)


    • Hey Bob,

      If you have a herniated disc on the left, then you would want to repeated side bends to the left provided that the pain is not referring down the leg.


  4. Hi mark

    First of all let me thank you for what you are doing so far . Really awesome.

    No i have mild disk in my lower back but sometimes i get small pain like 1/10 can i still do the exercise to strengthen my lower back to prevent further deterioration of tge disk ? If yes should i do all the about exercises??

  5. I have l4/l5 broad disaccharide bulge for number of years . I have started these exercises today so hopefully I will get some relief. Realised I have been doing some. Exercises which have not been good for my back so have discontinued same. I am 66 year old gym goer ..could you please tell me how many times a week I do these…I can’t see if you have said anywhere on article . Thank u so much for posting these exercises. Will follow you on FB. I live in Ireland

      • Hi Mary,

        You can start with 2/week.

        Monitor how your body responds and increase to 3/week if tolerated.

        Keep in mind – none of these exercises should make any symptoms worse.

        All the best.


  6. Hi Mark. This sight is really great! Any advice on how to correct a far lateral (extraforaminal) herniated disc which is compressing the exiting left L4 nerve root. It’s not that common, I understand maybe only 10% of disc herniations present this way. A few chiros and PTs that I have worked with don’t seem to have much knowledge on this. I have been shown some of the things that you show above for a standard posterior presentation, any of this I would want to avoid with my presentation? Thanks!!

    • Hey Matt,

      For lateral herniated discs, you can still use this same principles in this blog post.

      Except in Step 5: You can add an element of side bending TOWARDS the side of the herniation as you perform the exercises.

      For example: For the McKenzie extensions, perform the extensions with your torso slightly bent more towards the side of herniation.

      The other steps you can keep the same.


  7. Hi Mark, my wife is intrigued by your site. She is doing these exercises to help her condition. I would like to know where you have practices. We would like to visit you for an assessment and therapy. Herbert

    • Hi MC,

      All the exercises mentioned in this blog post can help with a S1 problem.

      You might also want to consider add “Nerve Glides” to mobilize the Sciatic nerve.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.