If you suffer from back pain related to discs, there are a few things you can do at home to relieve it. First off, you should avoid any flexion postures such as prolonged sitting, bending at the waist, slouching, or lifting while in these postures. But there are also some easy home extension exercises—the Mckenzie Exercises—you can do to relieve back pain and relieve pressure in the discs.
What Are Discs?
In between your vertebrae (back bones) there are intervertebral disks. When you flex forward, the vertebrae put pressure on the front of the disc, which increases the bulge towards the back, towards sensitive nerve roots and the spinal cord. Dr. Howard Fox, D.C., in San Juan Capistrano, CA, uses a ketchup packet to demonstrate to patients how pressure in the discs works. If you step on the front of a ketchup packet, notice how the packet bulges towards the back? That is what is happening to the discs in your spine when your spine is in flexion. We don’t want that disc bulge. Just like if you put too much pressure on the ketchup packet it will rupture and the interior fluid will come out, same thing with a disc when it ruptures, also called a herniated disc, when the disc material is pushed out and into the spinal canal. We want to avoid that happening.
How do we even out that ketchup packet/disc? To correct it, we need to reverse the pressure by placing the lower back into extension. The McKenzie Extension exercises help in stabilizing the disc and relieving pain. These moves were developed by a physical therapist in New Zealand, Robin McKenzie. Talk to your chiropractor or medical doctor before starting to find out if these exercises are right for you and your back pain.
How to do McKenzie Exercises
1.To begin, lie face-down with your arms at your side and face turned to one side. Take some deep breaths and relax, making a conscious effort to release tension in your lower back, hips and legs. Hold for a couple of minutes.
2. Next, place your elbows under your shoulders and lean on your forearms, palms flat on the floor in front. This is the Sphinx maneuver. Keep all the muscles in your back, legs, buttocks, hips, and legs relaxed. Remain in the position for two to three minutes.
3. Return to step 1 to rest a minute.
4. Place hands under your shoulders in the push up position. Keeping hips on the floor, straighten elbows, pushing the top half of your body up as far as your pain allows you while keeping back, buttocks, and hips completely relaxed. To avoid clenching your butt cheeks you can rotate your toes in and your heels out. Breathe normally. Maintain this position for one to two seconds, then lower back down to the starting position.
5. Repeat this push up motion smoothly for 10 to 12 times. Try to raise yourself up higher each time, getting arms as straight as possible, while keeping pelvis on the floor. If you notice your pain relieving you can hold the pose for longer than two seconds.
Stop immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Increase in pain
- Pain moving from spine to you side, buttock, or leg
- Increases in numbness or tingling
- Decreased range of motion.
For acute pain, you can do these exercises every hour until pain begins to subside. For maintenance, do them every night before bed and another set when you wake up in the morning. You can ice for 10 to 15 minutes after a set if you find it helpful.