About 2 to 3 weeks after lumbar microdiscectomy surgery, when soft tissues have healed, some patients may be advised to begin back strengthening exercises.

There are a wide variety of possible exercises to help improve back strength and function after a microdiscectomy. It is important to choose exercises that are safe and well-tolerated so that they can be done on a regular basis.

Opposite Arm/Leg Raise

The opposite arm/leg raise, also called bird-dog exercise, is a gentle exercise that works core muscles and helps improve balance.

  • Get down on all fours with knees and hands on the floor. Keep the spine straight, with the hands directly below the shoulders and knees aligned directly under the hips.
  • Reach out with an arm, keeping it straight and level. At the same time, extend the leg on the opposite side, keeping it straight and level.
  • Hold the stretch for a few deep breaths, then gently lower the arm and leg to starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise with the other arm/leg. Try for 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.

This exercise can be performed without bending or twisting the spine, so it may be a good one to try early in the recovery process if the surgeon allows.

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Extension Exercises

Back extension exercises specifically target the back muscles. There are multiple variations, ranging from simple to more advanced.

Press-up exercise

The press-up is a gentle extension exercise to start.

  • Lie on the stomach with both hands under the shoulders.
  • Raise the upper body onto the elbows while keeping both hips on the ground.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly return to the floor.
  • Aim to complete 10 repetitions.

When this press-up exercise becomes easier to perform, gradually try to hold the position for 20 seconds.

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Upper back extension

As the patient progresses in recovery, upper back extensions may be added.

  • Lie face down and clasp both hands behind, over the small of the back.
  • Raise the upper body off the ground while looking straight down at the floor. Keep both hips flat on the ground and pinch the shoulder blades together.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Slowly lower the upper body back to the ground, unclasping the hands and returning to the starting position.
  • Aim for 10 repetitions.

Since upper back extensions are more advanced, some surgeons may not approve this exercise until 4 to 6 weeks after microdiscectomy surgery. Always check with the surgeon before starting a new exercise.

See Lumbar Microdiscectomy Recovery: Weeks 2 to 6

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General Tips for Back Strengthening Exercises

When starting back strengthening exercises following microdiscectomy surgery, it helps to work with a trained professional. A physiatrist, physical therapist, or another qualified health professional can teach safe and effective ways to perform the exercises. Once the exercises have been learned and practiced in a clinic setting, the patient can continue the exercises at home.

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