Effective Hydrotherapy Exercises for Lumbar Disc Herniation

Hydrotherapy is a powerful alternative to surgery and effectively helps to manage lumbar disc herniation. The aquatic exercises and infographic below offer tips and exercises for treating this injury.

Always consult a medical health care professional before performing any of the following interventions.

1. Lumbar traction

Lumbar traction is a valuable therapy to add to an individual’s rehabilitation protocol because it can reduce an individual’s lower back pain by lengthening the spine and taking pressure off of the affected discs. Hydrotherapy provides a perfect environment to implement this protocol. Because of this reduction of pain, an individual can choose to treat their disc herniation conservatively rather than opting for surgery.

Exercise: Start in deep water, completely non-weight bearing with a flotation device under the arms. Rest in that position and let your body weight provide the traction to increase space between vertebrae and decrease pain.

2. Walking with resistance

Core activation is key for an individual who has a lumbar disc herniation. An active core will provide support for the vertebrae and take pressure off lumbar musculature.

Exercise: A simple yet functional way to activate one’s core in the pool is to walk forward and backward while holding a hydrotone in each hand. The resistance from the hydrotones dragging in the water will force you to maintain proper pelvic position and activate the core.

3. Wall slides/squats

Another core activation exercise that is extremely functional is a squat or wall slide exercise. This is a common motion, i.e. sitting in a chair, standing up from a chair, so practicing this motion is important.

Exercise: To practice proper core position, glute activation, and core strength, perform a squat in the water. Performing this in the water is beneficial because it decreases an individual’s’ body weight and provides a safe environment in case of falling. Doing the squat against a wall, or a wall slide, can help provide added support and feedback for pelvic position.

4. Medicine ball chops

Rotational forces and lifting objects are activities of daily living that we usually take for granted but can be extremely difficult for someone to complete with this injury. Once core position has been established and strength goals have been met, adding a rotational lifting exercise can help progress an individual to ADLs.

Exercise: Stand in deep water. While holding a medicine ball at one hip, raise the medicine ball to the opposite shoulder and then back to the opposite hip. After many reps, switch sides. The water will provide a constant resistance throughout the motion and build strength in the associated muscles.

5. Supine planks

Increasing core muscular endurance is also important once strength goals have been met. This exercise can help activate the stabilizing muscles in the core and teach them how to fire in the correct core position.

Exercise: Lay supine with floating dumbbells in each hand and under each ankle. Activate the posterior muscle chain (hamstrings, glutes, low back muscles, scapula stabilizers) and bring core into proper position while floating. Hold this position for a period of time then relax.

~ This, and the infographic content was provided by Paul Secondi, MA, ATC. A member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and a 2010 graduate of Connecticut with a degree in kinesiology, Secondi earned his master’s degree in sport and fitness from Central Florida in 2012.

Download our Hydrotherapy exercises for treating acute lumbar disc herniation infographic (PNG, 1MB).

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