Video Series: Exercises for Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

These 4 video low back exercises and stretches may help people with lumbar degenerative disc disease to reduce back pain and build core strength.

What exercises help relieve lumbar degenerative disc disease?

The benefits of exercise for lumbar (low back) degenerative disc disease (DDD) are seemingly endless: It strengthens your spinal structures (like bones, muscles, and joints), promotes disc nutrition, and it makes you feel better overall. Your spine specialist may recommend 4 stretches to reduce back pain from low back degenerative disc disease: pelvic tilt, knee to chest, lower trunk rotation, and all fours opposite arm and leg extension.

The exercises and stretches demonstrated in the videos above are designed for people with lumbar DDD. Do you have degenerative disc disease in your neck? Check out Video Series: Exercises for Cervical Spine Degenerative Disc Disease for stretches to incorporate into your fitness routine.

Pelvic Tilt

Purpose: To strengthen your lower abdominal muscles and add flexibility to your low back.

How to perform a pelvic tilt:

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. As you exhale, squeeze your abdominal muscles, push your belly button toward the floor, and flatten your low back.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax.
  4. Repeat 10 times, holding for 5 seconds each time.

How can I tell if I’m doing the pelvic tilt right?

  • Using the same hand, place your pinky finger on your hip bone and thumb on your lowest rib.
  • As you squeeze your abdominals, your pinky and thumb should move closer together.

Pelvic tilt illustrationPelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low back. Photo Source:

Knee to Chest

Purpose: To reduce pressure on your lumbar spinal nerves and alleviate back pain.

How to perform a knee to chest:

  1. Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your right knee toward your chest, using your hands to hold your leg in the stretched position. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Lower your right leg and repeat the exercise with the left knee. Hold for 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat with each leg 3 to 5 times.
  5. After stretching each leg individually, perform the exercise by holding both knees in the stretched position. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times.

Knee to chest, alternate low back stretch.Alternating knee to chest stretches may help reduce low back pain. Photo Source:

Lower Trunk Rotation

Purpose: To increase your spine’s mobility and flexibility.

How to perform a lower trunk rotation:

  1. Lie on your back in the hook lying position (knees bent and feet flat on the floor).
  2. Rotate your knees to 1 side, holding them for 3 to 5 seconds.
  3. While contracting your abdominal muscles, slowly rotate your knees to the other side and hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat up to 10 times on both sides.

How can I tell if I’m doing the lower trunk rotation exercise correctly?

  • Throughout the stretch, you should feel a gentle stretching in your lower back and hip.

Lumbar side roll exerciseModified version of the lower trunk rotation demonstrated in the video. Photo Source:

All Fours Opposite Arm and Leg Extension

Purpose: To strengthen and stabilize your abdominal and low back muscles.

How to perform an all fours opposite arm and leg extension:

  1. Start in an all fours, or tabletop, position, contracting your abdominals throughout the entire exercise. Engaging your abdominals will keep your back in a straight position.
  2. Gently raise your left leg behind you and hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat with your right leg and hold for 3 to 5 seconds.

Ready to take on an advanced version? If you’re able to comfortably perform this exercise up to 10 times, you may also include your arms in this stretch. Extend your right arm while raising your left leg, and extend your left arm while raising your right leg.
opposite arm leg lift, alternate exerciseThis image demonstrates a modified version of the all fours opposite arm and leg extension exercise that may help you strengthen your abdominal and low back muscles. Photo Source:

How do these exercises reduce lumbar degenerative disc disease pain?

These low-impact exercises focus on strengthening and conditioning your spine’s support system—your core (abdominal muscles) and spinal muscles. What’s the link between a strong core and back health? Your core and spinal muscles act as an internal brace to support your spine. Keeping these structures strong puts less pressure on your spine, so you’ll feel less pain. That’s why exercises designed to strengthen your spine and increase flexibility are so important—stronger spines resist pain.

Staying active also helps keep your discs healthy, as spinal discs need movement for nutrients.

Can exercising with lumbar degenerative disc disease hurt me?

Before starting these stretches or any new exercise program, always talk to your spine specialist first. Low back degenerative disc disease is a condition that warrants extra care before jumping into a new activity, even if it seems as harmless as a gentle stretch. Your doctor’s approval will ensure your activities do what they intend—to help you feel better and not worse.

The 4 stretches described in this article are general guidelines, but your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist or other trainer to show you how to perform other exercises and stretches that take your specific lumbar degenerative disc disease diagnosis into consideration. These professionals may craft an exercise plan for you to help you manage your low back pain and prevent it from worsening.

Finally, remember to take it easy on yourself while exercising. Engaging in low-impact exercises and stretches can make a big difference to the health of your spine. Focus on consistency and listen to your body. If you experience pain or other symptoms (eg, numbness or tingling) during physical activity, stop exercising and call your spine specialist immediately.

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