Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs: Your Guide to Recovery

Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs: Your Guide to Recovery

Back pain is a common ailment that millions across the globe grapple with, and one of the primary culprits is the herniated disc. Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, this condition can bring about debilitating pain, limiting one’s daily activities. But there’s hope beyond the pain. Physical therapy offers a non-invasive approach to manage and often reverse the symptoms of a herniated disc. This guide delves deep into the role of physical therapy for herniated discs, offering insights into the techniques used, the benefits, and how to embark on your journey to a pain-free back.

Can You Fix A Herniated Disc With Physical Therapy?

Can You Fix A Herniated Disc With Physical Therapy?A herniated disc, often known as a slipped or ruptured disc, is a condition where the soft inner gel of the disc protrudes through its tougher exterior casing. Sometimes it causes discomfort or nerve irritation. While physical therapy cannot “fix” or physically realign a herniated disc back to its original state. Still, it can play a pivotal role in managing the symptoms and promoting conditions conducive to healing.

Physical therapy primarily focuses on strengthening the muscles around the spine, increasing flexibility, and improving posture. These measures can help reduce the pressure on the affected disc and associated nerves, alleviating pain and discomfort. Moreover, with a tailored therapy plan, many patients experience significant relief from symptoms and can return to their regular activities without undergoing invasive procedures.

What Are The Techniques Of Physical Therapy for Herniated Discs?

Physical therapy offers a range of techniques and exercises tailored to treat herniated discs, aiming to reduce pain, promote healing, and prevent future injuries. Here are some of the common techniques employed:

Manual Therapy

This hands-on approach involves specific movements and manipulations of muscles and joints by the therapist. The intent is to improve tissue extensibility, increase range of motion, induce relaxation, mobilize or manipulate soft tissues and joints, modulate pain, and reduce soft tissue swelling, inflammation, or movement restriction.

McKenzie Method

Created by Robin McKenzie, a physical therapist from New Zealand, this technique emphasizes the importance of self-care and patient empowerment. The method involves a series of exercises that aim to centralize or move the pain away from the extremities (like arms or legs) back to the source. This typically the back, leading to pain reduction and promoting natural healing.


Spinal traction stretches the spine to take pressure off compressed discs. This straightening can help improve the disc’s health and alleviate nerve root impingements. Both manual and mechanical traction are available, with the latter often involving specialized devices to deliver controlled force.

Postural Training

Over time, poor posture can lead to imbalances and stress on the spine, potentially exacerbating herniated disc symptoms. Physical therapists teach patients to maintain neutral spinal alignment, helping to reduce undue pressure on affected discs and improve overall spinal health.

Electrical Stimulation

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) involves placing electrodes on the skin near the painful area. These devices deliver low-voltage electrical currents. That can help in pain modulation and muscle stimulation, promoting healing.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Cold packs can reduce inflammation by constricting blood vessels, while heat can expand blood vessels and relax muscles. Alternating between them can provide effective relief, especially in the acute phase of a herniated disc.

Ultrasound Therapy

Using sound waves, ultrasound therapy can heat tissues deep beneath the skin’s surface. The warming effect boosts circulation, which can aid in reducing muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain.

Aquatic Therapy

Exercises performed in water can be especially therapeutic because the buoyancy reduces the impact on joints and the spine. The water’s resistance also offers a unique medium for gentle strength training, making it easier for patients to start moving without straining the affected area.

It’s worth noting that not all techniques of physical therapy for herniated discs are suitable for every patient. The best approach often depends on the herniated disc’s severity, its location, the patient’s overall health, and other individual factors. As always, a comprehensive assessment by a trained physical therapist is crucial to determining the most appropriate treatment strategy.

What Exercises Are Best For Herniated Discs?

What Exercises Are Best For Herniated Discs?Exercising with a herniated disc requires caution, and it’s essential to get guidance from a physical therapist or medical professional to ensure that exercises are performed correctly and safely. That said, several exercises are often recommended to help alleviate the symptoms of a herniated disc and promote healing:

Pelvic Tilt

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles, pushing your lower back into the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then relax.
  • This exercise helps strengthen the core and promote a neutral spine.

Knee to Chest Stretch

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Hold one knee and pull it gently towards your chest.
  • Hold for about 20-30 seconds, then switch to the other knee.
  • This stretches the lower back and gluteal muscles.

Press-Up (Back Extension)

  • Lie on your stomach and place your hands under your shoulders, as if you’re going to do a push-up.
  • Press your hands down, lifting your upper body, but keep your hips and pelvis on the floor.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds, then lower yourself back down.
  • This exercise can help if your herniated disc is in the lower back and the bulge is posterior.

Cat-Camel Stretch

  • Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  • Arch your back by pressing your stomach towards the floor and lifting your head up (camel).
  • Then, round your back, tuck your chin to your chest, and tilt your pelvis (cat).
  • This mobilizes the spine and stretches the back muscles.

Child’s Pose

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Sit your hips back toward your heels, extending your arms in front of you.
  • Lower your chest towards the floor.
  • This provides a gentle stretch to the back and helps in relaxation.

Bridge Exercise

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift your hips off the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then lower your hips back to the floor.
  • This strengthens the glutes and lower back muscles.

Gentle Aerobic Exercise

Low-impact activities like walking and stationary cycling can improve blood flow, which in turn promotes healing. It also ensures that the back is kept flexible and mobile.

Wall Sits

  • Stand with your back against a wall.
  • Slide down into a sitting position so your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then slide back up.
  • This strengthens the thighs and reduces the load on the spine.

Partial Curl

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  • Cross your arms on your chest.
  • Tighten your abdomen and lift your shoulder blades off the ground.
  • Hold briefly, then lower back down.
  • This is good for core strengthening.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie on your back with one leg extended straight.
  • Lift the other leg, trying to keep it straight, and hold behind the thigh to gently pull it towards you.
  • This alleviates tension in the hamstrings, which can affect the back.

It’s crucial to start exercises slowly and avoid any that cause or increase pain. Ensure you always warm up before starting and cool down afterward. As herniated discs can present differently in individuals, these exercises might not be suitable for everyone. Consulting with a physical therapist for a tailored exercise regimen is always recommended.

How To Find The Right Physical Therapy?

How To Find The Right Physical Therapy?Finding the right physical therapy for a herniated disc involves several steps to ensure the care you receive is not only effective but also tailored to your specific needs. Here’s a guideline to help you find the best physical therapy for your situation:

  • Certifications and Specializations: Ensure that the physical therapist is licensed in your state. Additionally, some therapists have additional certifications or specializations in areas like orthopedics, sports medicine, or neurology, which might be beneficial depending on your condition.
  • Reviews and Testimonials: Look up reviews online or ask around in local community groups. Word-of-mouth referrals from friends or family who had a positive experience can be invaluable.
  • Ask About Their Experience: Especially if you have a specific condition (like a herniated disc), it’s beneficial to choose a therapist who has experience treating similar issues.
  • Convenient Location and Hours: Regular sessions are often necessary for physical therapy, so consider choosing a location that’s convenient for you. Also, ensure that their operating hours fit with your schedule.
  • Personal Comfort: It’s essential to feel comfortable with your physical therapist as you’ll be working closely with them. The best care often comes from a therapeutic relationship based on trust and understanding.
  • Insurance and Payment: Before committing, confirm that the clinic accepts your insurance. Also, get a clear understanding of any out-of-pocket costs you might incur.
  • Initial Evaluation: On your first visit, the therapist should conduct a thorough assessment of your condition, discuss your goals, and develop a tailored treatment plan. This initial evaluation is a great time to gauge if the therapist’s approach aligns with your needs.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you’re uncertain about – from the therapist’s experience to treatment techniques to post-treatment support.

Remember, the right therapist can make a significant difference in your recovery journey. It’s crucial to take the time to do your research, listen to your instincts, and find the best fit for your unique needs.


In navigating the path to recovery from conditions like herniated discs, the role of physical therapy is paramount. Choosing the right therapist not only hastens the healing process but also ensures that you receive care tailored to your specific needs. By taking into consideration factors such as experience, specializations, treatment techniques, and personal comfort, you set the stage for a therapeutic experience rooted in trust and expertise.

Remember, your journey to wellness is a collaborative effort, and finding the right physical therapist is a significant step toward regaining optimal health and functionality. If you’re experiencing Neck pain, physical therapy for neck pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.