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Exercise therapy

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have a slipped disc. It tells you about exercise therapy, a treatment used for a slipped disc. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't really know if exercise therapy can help with the pain caused by a slipped disc. There hasn't been enough research to say one way or the other.

What is it?

If your back aches from a slipped disc, your doctor or a physiotherapist may suggest a programme of back exercises to help. Doctors sometimes call these programmes exercise therapy. They involve doing more than your normal activities.

You will do back exercises such as bending forwards and straightening your spine, stretching and strengthening exercises (such as sit-ups), and aerobic activity (such as walking or gentle running). You can do an exercise programme with a physiotherapist or at home.

The physiotherapist will work with you to draw up a plan that explains the types of exercises you should do, how the exercises can help, and how often you need to do them.

How can it help?

We don't know if exercise therapy can help with pain or sciatica caused by a slipped disc. Some studies have found that exercise therapy helps reduce pain and increase movement as much as some other treatments, such as standard physiotherapy, traction, and spinal manipulation. [28] [42] But some of the studies aren't very good and we need more research to know whether or not exercise therapy works.

But we do know that exercise programmes can help people with most kinds of long-term (chronic) backache. The exercises reduce pain and let people move around more comfortably.

How does it work?

The idea is that an exercise programme will strengthen the muscles that support your back, improve your flexibility, and increase your stamina. This will help you develop a stronger and less painful back. It also seems that exercise programmes stop symptoms getting worse, which often happens when people are less active.

Can it be harmful?

We don't know for certain if following a programme of back exercises can be harmful, as studies don't look at this.

How good is the research on exercise therapy?

We didn't find any good studies that compared exercise therapy with no treatment for a slipped disc. But we did find some studies that compared exercise therapy with other treatments used for slipped disc, such as standard physiotherapy, traction, spinal manipulation, and corsets. [28] [42] Some of these studies found that exercise therapy helped to improve the symptoms of a slipped disc as well as these other treatments. But the studies were small or not very good, so we can't say for certain that exercise therapy works for a slipped disc. More good studies are needed on this treatment.

Glossary

physiotherapist

A physiotherapist is a health professional who is trained to use physical activity and exercises to help people's bodies heal.

For more terms related to Slipped disc

Citations

For references related to Slipped disc click here.
Last Updated: January 25, 2011
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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