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What should I avoid with an L5-S1 herniated disc?

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of the disc pushes out through a tear or weakness in the outer lining of the disc. Herniated discs are most common in the lower back, especially at the L5-S1 level. This can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs. While many herniated discs heal on their own over time, there are some activities and positions it’s important to avoid while recovering to prevent further injury.

Avoid Bending, Lifting, Twisting Motions

Any movement that compresses the spine can make a herniated L5-S1 disc worse. Motions that should be avoided include:

Bending Forward

Bending forward puts extra pressure on the discs. Avoid bending over to pick items up off the floor. Use proper lifting techniques if you must lift, keeping your back straight and lifting with your legs.

Heavy Lifting

Any heavy lifting can aggravate a herniated disc. Avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds until the disc has had time to heal. Get help from others when you need to move heavy objects.


Twisting at the waist stresses the lower back. Avoid any quick twisting motions and take care when getting in and out of vehicles. Move your whole body together instead of twisting.

Use Proper Sitting Posture

Sitting puts extra pressure on the discs. Those with an L5-S1 disc herniation should:

– Sit in chairs with good back support
– Avoid low, soft chairs and couches
– Maintain good posture by keeping your back straight and shoulders back
– Take regular breaks from sitting every 30 minutes
– Consider a lumbar support cushion or small pillow behind your lower back

Avoid High-Impact Activities

Any jarring activities can aggravate a herniated disc. Avoid:


The pounding motion of running can compress the disc. Switch to lower impact activities like walking, swimming, or cycling.

Contact Sports:

Sports like football, hockey, and martial arts can lead to collisions and falls, which put the back at risk.


Avoid lifts like deadlifts and squats that load the spine. Stick to upper body exercises or lower weights until the disc has healed.

Use Caution With Flexion Exercises

Exercises and stretches that flex the spine a lot, especially when loaded, can compress a herniated disc. Use caution with:


Avoid any abdominal exercises that round your spine. Try plank variations instead.

Touching Your Toes:

Bending over to touch your toes stresses the back. Modify any stretches to avoid excessive rounding of the spine.

Yoga Poses:

Avoid poses like plow, bridge, wheel and full forward bends. Opt for gentle back-friendly yoga classes.

Find Comfortable Sleeping Positions

Sleeping in positions that aggravate nerve pain should be avoided. The best sleeping positions are:

– On your back with a pillow under your knees
– On your side with a pillow between your knees
– On your stomach with a pillow under your lower abdomen

Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or directly on your painful side. Mattress firmness is a personal preference. Softer mattresses may aggravate back pain in some people.

Wear Supportive Footwear

Wearing supportive shoes with good cushioning helps absorb impact while standing and walking. Avoid:

– High heels
– Flat shoes or flip flops
– Worn-out shoes with poor support

Orthotics or shoe inserts may help if you overpronate or have other foot issues contributing to back strain.

Maintain Good Posture

Making some simple changes to your posture throughout the day can help take pressure off your back:

– Stand up straight, keeping your ears over your shoulders
– Bring items closer to avoid hunching or reaching
– Sit with your hips and knees at 90 degree angles
– Keep your feet flat on the floor when sitting
– Adjust your work station setup to avoid hunching over

Pace Yourself

Take time to rest when experiencing pain and avoid overdoing activities. Pace yourself with household chores and give your back frequent breaks. Ask others for help when needed. Trying to push through intense pain often makes it worse.

Manage Your Weight

Extra weight puts more load and compression through your spine. Losing any excess weight reduces strain on your back. Speak to your doctor about safe weight loss strategies. Even a 5-10% loss can make a big difference in back pain.

Quit Smoking

Smoking impedes blood flow, delaying disc healing. Quitting provides major benefits like faster recovery. Your doctor can recommend smoking cessation aids and programs. Even cutting back helps.

Summary of Activities to Avoid with an L5-S1 Herniated Disc
Activities to Avoid Recommended Alternatives
Bending forward repeatedly Use proper lifting techniques. Avoid picking items up off the floor.
Heavy lifting over 10 lbs Get help moving heavy objects. Lift lighter weights.
Twisting motions Pivot your whole body together. Take care getting in/out vehicles.
Low/soft chairs Sit in supportive chairs. Use lumbar cushions.
Running, sports, weightlifting Try lower impact activities like walking, swimming, light upper body weights.
Sit-ups, toe touches Avoid spinal flexion, especially weighted. Try plank variations.
Sleeping on stomach Sleep on back or side with pillow support.
High heels, flat shoes Wear supportive footwear with cushioning.
Hunching, slouching Improve posture. Adjust workstations. Bring items closer.

Use Medications Carefully

Some medications can help manage herniated disc pain and inflammation. Use over-the-counter meds carefully by:

– Avoiding long-term use which can hinder healing
– Using the lowest effective dose
– Trying alternating ice/heat if NSAIDs irritate your stomach
– Discussing any concerns with your doctor

Ask about prescription medications if OTC options aren’t providing enough relief. Narcotic painkillers carry risks of dependency and should only be used short-term under medical supervision.

Explore Complementary Therapies

Alternative treatments like massage, acupuncture and spinal manipulation may provide pain relief and benefit healing. Research shows:

– Massage can reduce nerve pain and muscle tension
– Acupuncture can provide short-term pain relief
– Gentle spinal mobilization techniques can improve mobility

Communicate with all your healthcare providers to ensure complementary therapies are safe with your condition. Proper body mechanics are key if trying spinal manipulation therapies.

Quit Smoking

Smoking decreases blood flow, slowing the healing process. Quitting provides major benefits including faster recovery. Talk to your doctor about aids to stop smoking like:

– Nicotine patches, gum, lozenges
– Prescription medications
– Hypnosis, acupuncture
– Support groups, counseling

Even cutting back on smoking helps. Partner with your healthcare providers to create a quit plan tailored to you.

See Your Doctor Promptly If Symptoms Worsen

Seek prompt medical care if you experience:

– Loss of bowel or bladder control
– Numbness in the groin/inner thighs
– Progressive weakness in your legs
– Unsteadiness on your feet

These can indicate a more severe herniation requiring immediate treatment. Temporary pain relief like ice, rest and over-the-counter medications may be used at home initially. But worsening symptoms should receive urgent medical evaluation.

Explore All Treatment Options

While many herniated discs improve with conservative care, more aggressive treatments may become necessary if symptoms persist. Don’t hesitate to explore all options if pain is severely impacting your quality of life. Additional treatments may include:

– Epidural steroid injections – Steroids injected near the nerve can relieve inflammation. Multiple rounds are sometimes needed.

– Disc decompression therapy – Gentle stretching of the spine to create more space around the herniated disc.

– Microdiscectomy surgery – Removing portions of the herniated disc pressing on a nerve. Over 90% successful in relieving leg pain.

Discuss the pros/cons of each option thoroughly with your physician. Advanced treatments may provide significant relief when conservative measures fail.

Stay Active

While an active herniated disc needs rest initially, resuming light activity helps recovery long-term. Walking, swimming and gentle back exercises encourage healing by:

– Improving flexibility and range of motion
– Pumping nutrients into the discs
– Preventing muscles from weakening

Start slowly and gradually increase activity as tolerated. Low-impact cardio, yoga, tai chi and Pilates can all be beneficial. Avoiding activity can prolong pain and stiffness.

Practice Good Body Mechanics

Using proper posture and movement patterns when performing daily activities helps take pressure off your back. Important tips include:

– Maintaining good posture – Stand tall with shoulders back.

– Avoiding bending and twisting – Move your whole body as a unit.

– Using your legs to lift – Keep items close to your body.

– Changing positions often – Take regular standing/walking breaks.

– Reaching properly – Move closer instead of hunching over.

– Using assistive devices – Reachers, long-handled tools.

Having good body mechanics reduces strain on your back both at home and work. Make it a habit.

Find Ways to Reduce Stress

High stress and anxiety can make you more sensitive to physical pain. Finding healthy stress relief outlets can aid healing. Try:

– Relaxation techniques – Deep breathing, visualization, meditation

– Fun hobbies – Gardening, puzzles, reading, crafts

– Light exercise – Walking, tai chi, gentle yoga

– Connecting with others – Joining support groups or talking with friends

– Professional help – Counseling or therapy to manage anxiety/depression

Managing emotional health goes hand-in-hand with managing disc pain. Don’t neglect self-care.

Use Proper Home Care Basics

Simple changes around the home can take excess strain off your back while recovering:

– Raise toilet seat height and use assist bars

– Use long-handled sponges and shower heads

– Sit to dress, cook, do chores like laundry

– Store frequently used items at waist height

– Sleep with a pillow under knees or between legs

– Invest in higher chairs and beds that reduce bending

Adapt your environment and daily tasks to avoid extra bending, lifting and twisting. Protect your back.

Talk to Your Doctor About Returning to Work

Most people can return to work within 6 weeks, but your timeline depends on:

– Your job duties and requirements
– How symptom-free you are
– Your response to treatment

Your doctor will assess your ability to work. Be honest about your pain levels. Options to ease back to work may include:

– Modified duties and gradual return

– Restrictions on bending, lifting, prolonged sitting/standing

– Leeway to change positions or take breaks

– Ergonomic equipment like sit/stand desks

Communicate with your employer too. Advocate for accommodations that enable you to work safely.

Don’t Wait Too Long for Treatment

Many people with back pain wait to seek help. But delaying medical care for a herniated disc can worsen symptoms. See your doctor promptly if you have:

– Intense or worsening leg/back pain
– Numbness, tingling or weakness in your legs
– Leg pain aggravated by sitting, bending, sneezing

Early treatment is key. Your doctor can recommend appropriate medication, therapy, injections or other interventions to help relieve your symptoms. Don’t wait.

Be Patient With the Healing Process

Patience is vital when recovering from a herniated disc. Some key points to remember:

– Healing takes time – Discs receive less blood flow, delaying the process.

– Symptoms often fluctuate – Good and bad days are normal during recovery.

– Setbacks happen – Pace activity levels and don’t overdo it.

– Consistency matters – Stick with your treatment plan.

– Progress is gradual – Celebrate small improvements.

Trust the process. With proper care, most herniated discs resolve within several months. But avoid rushing your recovery.

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to the signals your body is sending as you recover. Key tips:

– Stop activity when pain intensifies – Don’t “push through” pain.

– Rest when tired – Know your limits and take breaks.

– Use ice/heat as needed – Alternate to relieve pain and relax muscles.

– Modify movements that aggravate pain – Adjust techniques and range of motion.

– Communicate with your healthcare providers – Report your symptoms honestly.

Tuning into your body helps prevent further injury. Don’t ignore or mask important pain signals.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight causes extra pressure through the spine, which can worsen disc issues. Losing weight helps by:

– Reducing mechanical force on the discs

– Decreasing inflammation

– Improving nutrient absorption into discs

Even a modest 5-10% body weight loss can make a difference. Partner with your doctor to create a safe weight loss plan combining diet, exercise and potentially medications if needed.

Strengthen Your Core

Having strong core muscles supports your back and takes pressure off injured discs to aid healing. Focus on:

– Front core – Rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques

– Back core – Spinal erectors, multifidus, latissimus dorsi

– Glutes and hamstrings – Help stabilize and decompress the pelvis

A physical therapist can guide you on safe, progressive core-strengthening moves to match your abilities. Consistency is key.


Recovering from an L5-S1 herniated disc requires patience and care. Avoiding reinjury is crucial. Pay attention to pain signals, maintain proper body mechanics, stay active gently, and explore all treatment options if symptoms persist. With time, care and consistency, most herniated discs can heal effectively. Commit to your recovery plan and stay positive.