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