Managing Back Pain

STACK Expert Mo Skelton describes the symptoms of a herniated disk, then offers tips and exercises to treat back pain, regain strength and recover faster.

Back Pain

Back pain—one of the leading causes of disability and ER and doctor visits in the United States—affects both old and young people. And one of the most common causes of back pain is a herniated disc.

Spinal discs are like little cushions that reduce stress between the bones of the spine. Each one is filled with a jellylike substance and connected to the vertebrae.

Twisting improperly at the spine can stress the protective layers of the disc and cause damage, as can bending forward with a rounded back. Athletes who improperly perform Squats or Deadlifts are especially susceptible to herniated discs. Weak abdominal muscles and improper posture when sitting or standing can exacerbate the problem.

Back PainSymptoms of a Herniated Disc

Pain in flexion: Sitting slumped, both knees bent to your chest; lying on your back; or bending at the waist to pick up something from the floor all worsen the pain.

Less pain in extension: Walking relieves the pain (even if it doesn't go completely away), as does lying on your belly, standing up and leaning back.

Worsening symptoms: The pain spreads into the buttocks, hips, legs or feet. You may also feel numbness, tingling, or weakening on one side.

If you experience back pain, exercise may help. To increase spinal stability, try Planks, Quadruped Bird Dogs, and Push-Ups.

To increase your range of movement, try Foam Rolling and Overhead Squats.

To keep from overstressing your spine, try Lunges With Single-Arm Dumbbell Holds; Single-Arm Overhead Squats; Single-Arm Farmer's WalksRomanian DeadliftsGood Mornings; and Planks with Arm or Leg Lifts.

To regain your full strength, try Goblet Squats; Back Squats; Front Squats; and Sumo and Romanian Deadlifts.

To restore full power, begin with Kettlebell Swings to determine whether your spine remains neutral with movement and to make sure your hips are effectively hinging. Then proceed to jump training and Olympic lifting.

Above all, be patient. Studies have shown that most back pain, regardless of cause, resolves after three months. And be careful—if you injure your back multiple times, you may never fully recover.

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