Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

August 4, 2009

Pilates Exercise for Herniated Discs

Filed under: herniated disc,leg pain,lower back exercises,sciatica,sore lower back — personalizing pilates @ 7:19 pm

Hi everyone,

I was working with a client who has a herniated disc and thought I’d share a great Pilates exercise with you to help relieve the pain caused by this condition.

First, a bit of background about herniated discs.    Also commonly referred to as bulging discs or slipped discs, a herniated disc is most often found in the lower back (and sometimes in the neck).    It’s a bit technical to explain, but here’s my “layman’s” explanation that I hope is easy to understand!   Imagine that the vertebrae of your lower back are like the chocolate cookie wafers in an Oreo cookie.    The discs are like the white filling in the Oreo cookie.    In a perfect cookie, the white filling is even in thickness all the way around the cookie and it acts like a little pillow between the two wafers.   When we herniate a disc in the spine, it’s like squeezing one side of the Oreo cookie so that the filling ‘bulges’ out the opposite side.   The chocolate wafers are too close together without much ‘pillow’ on one side of the cookie while the filling is bulging out the other side.    In the spine, the filling (ie – the disc) contains nerves that run from the spinal cord down the legs.   When there is not enough filling and the nerves are pinched, then we experience pain.   So, in layman’s terms, we need to make sure that the filling doesn’t continue to be squeezed out.   Make sense?

Discs almost always bulge out to the back of the spine so that means that to “squeeze the filling” back into the cookie, we need to do Pilates exercises that involve back-bending.

Here’s one of Joseph Pilates’ classic exercises that will help you out!

single leg stretch

  • Start lying on your tummy, propped up on your forearms.
  • Look down at your fingertips.
  • Reach your heart forward out of your chest and lift your ribs away from the mat, imagining that you are doing a back dive.
  • Bend your knee and slowly pulse your heel in towards your buttock three times.  Switch legs.
  • Repeat 3 times.

You can do this exercise 2 or 3 times a day when your pain is acute.    Once the pain is gone, don’t stop doing it!   Once a day should be good for ongoing maintenance!

You can download a Pilates workout for Herniated Discs from my website.   It’s the only Pilates workout designed especially for herniated discs that is available!    It’s only $8.99 CDN which is an inexpensive investment in your health.   I guarantee that you’ll feel better after you do it.  Just go to




  1. what’s your website?

    Comment by mia — January 28, 2012 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  2. I have a bulging disc in my lumbar region. Due to this there is a nerve pinching which has given me a little tithgness in my front thigh muscle. As of now i swim for 45 mins and walk for 1 hour daily. I have done pilates on my own wih the help of you tube before. Right now I tried your pilates moves mentioned above. I am greatly relieved after 3 repetitions. Thanks so much.

    Comment by Shobha kumar — September 21, 2012 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  3. Thanks Paul for your comment!

    I’m sorry you don’t like my Oreo cookie metaphor but its simply an image to help the average person understand what is happening. Of course a herniated disc is not exactly the same as a bulging disc. However, from a Pilates and exercise point of view, they are treated the same. Flexion and extreme rotation are contraindicated for both conditions and the only safe way to strengthen the core is to do so in neutral or extension. Over the last 25 years, I have helped many clients strengthen their abs and lumbar spine using these exercises so I know they work.

    Comment by personalizing pilates — May 28, 2013 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  4. Excellent advice and description. I have a herniated disk and the Pilates exercise you showed really relieved the pain. Most important, I really appreciate the info you share in another article about the Lumbar Curve. Ab exercises were hurting my spine all this time. Thank you very much!

    Comment by Kostas — December 21, 2014 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

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