Lower back and leg pain exercises

Lower back and leg pain exercises are for the patient with a herniated disc.

This page was last updated by Dr Barrie Lewis on 29th April, 2019.

  1. Chiropractic Help
  2. Slipped disc symptoms
  3. Lower back and leg pain exercises

These should only be done with your doctor's consent. It's a prerequisite for watching the video. Please, be sensible; severe lumbar pain is a very serious condition. Whilst the vast majority of people get over it, without too much drama, at least with chiropractic, research shows that 5 percent end up under the knife.

As a rule of thumb never assume it won't be you. Follow the slipped disc rules and get better; then you and your doctor will both be happy.

Acute severe lower back pain can be very frightening. And the repercussions, if poorly managed, can ruin a person's life; literally.

Each case is unique and should be managed thoughtfully and carefully. In one sense, no two are alike.

Lower back and leg pain exercises

Lower back and leg pain exercises can also be used for those with lumbar stenosis; they should only be done only with your chiropractor's consent.


If you have slow internet, and frustratingly when watching this video, it stops periodically, with a little wheel spinning in the centre then:

  1. Just below the video you'll see: // Loudness symbol x/3:27
  2. Look immediately below the video for the red line following a grey line. If the red line catches up with the grey line, then the video stops.
  3. Click on the // (it becomes an arrowhead) and wait until the grey line reaches the end. Perhaps a minute.
  4. Click on the arrowhead. You may have to pull the little circle at the end of the red line to the right to get the video started again.

Lumbar disc syndrome and bed rest

It's perhaps controversial, but I'm a firm believer in chiropractic treatment, and that means gentle repositioning of the herniated disc using a variety of techniques; and a set of exercises; the right ones. They restore the flexibility of the disc and ultimately, later, to strengthen the core muscles.

You may have pain on coughing, sneezing and bearing down on the toilet. Forward bending is virtually always painful in the lower back, and there may be a tightness or frank pain in the naughty leg.

It's agreed by virtually all authorities that extended bed rest for ordinary lower back pain, if there is such at thing, is not helpful, and may in fact aggravate the condition.

But with a slipped disc you may not sit for a few days, and often you are unable to stand for any length of time. So what are you to do?

Bed rest, with cushions under your knees and these lower back and leg pain exercises every 15 to 30 minutes is the solution. Every hour, during the day, get up and walk around for as long as you can.

I call it modified, or massaging bed rest.

These lower back and leg pain exercises take only one minute. You'll find they may hurt a little at first, and sometimes a lot; do them gently. It's okay to feel some discomfort.

In fact if you feel nothing, they may not be achieving much, but they should not cause sharp pain.

If the herniation is lateral, then both the flexion and extension parts of the pelvic tilt exercise may be very painful; try doing it then with your legs flat on your bed.

Then generally the pain starts to lessen as you do the exercises.


Wrap an ice pack in a tea towel, and put it on your back, probably best lying on your side, for about 30 minutes. Follow it with a hot shower or hot pack for a short time, say ten minutes; don't bath.

I call it cold-hot therapy.

Getting out of bed

Do not sit up, as you would normally do. Instead, roll onto your side and carefully push yourself up sideways using your elbow and other hand.

Sometimes, if it's really severe, you may not be able to do that. Then roll onto your side, and thence onto your knees on the floor; then carefully first straighten up and slowly stand putting as much weight on the bed as possible.

Oddly, lying down from a standing position may be even worse than getting up. You've been walking about for half an hour, because you know it's not good to lie down too much. But now the back is feeling weak and sore, and you can't sit, so you must go to your bed.

But how do you do it? I can be excruciating going from a standing to a lying position. How do I know this? Thirty five years in practice plus I myself have the T shirt. I've been there, and done that, myself.

Go down onto one knee on the ground, then the other, and roll onto your bed. Take your time; it may even be five minutes before you can pluck up the courage to get up or lie down. That's okay.

There are obviously many causes of back and leg pain. These exercises are specifically for the lumbar disc syndrome, but they are very gentle and, done sensibly, they are unlikely to aggravate other conditions. Keep in mind you're not trying to reach the Olympic team, just trying to get a little fitter and have less pain.

If it's taken you thirty years to get out of shape, then don't expect to get fit and strong in a few weeks. You'll just aggravate the condition and make it worse!

Slipped disc

Slipped disc is described in anatomical terms as a bulge, a protrusion, a prolapse, extrusion and finally a sequestration, with increasing leg pain.

A hole forms in the annulus, through which the disc material slips affecting the nerve roots and even the spinal cord.

After a prolapse like this is reduced, it takes a minimum of six weeks, and probably three months for the annulus to heal; relapse is common should patients start bending and lifting too soon.

An enhanced view of a prolapsed lumbar disc on MRI.

If you have a frank disc bulge, then the sooner it's repositioned the better. It may be a terrifying thought, but a chiropractic manipulation in the hands of a skilled practitioner is not particularly painful.

It's absolutely vital, and then to do the lower back and leg pain exercises to prevent a relapse.

Femoral nerve is a mid lumbar structure.

There are two large nerves emanating from the lumbar spine; that from the upper lumbars is called the femoral nerve. It supplies mainly the front of the thigh and the inner lower leg. 

The femoral nerve is motor to the quadriceps muscle, the large muscle in the front of the thigh that raises the thigh and straightens the knee. If affected you will develop a pronounced limp and your knee will start giving on steps.

I have the t-shirt myself. Femoral nerve damage causes severe pain in the upper leg and numbness in the inner lower leg, believe you me. I ain't kidding! 

You have no option but to stop if you want to escape surgery. It is clinically challenging, but given patience and care you will recover with chiropractic help.

Help for sciatica pain

Help for sciatica pain is working, but don't expect miracles. Sometimes healing happens spontaneously but in the main pinched nerves require treatment, rest, rehabilitation and patience.

It has one of the highest cost tags for medical insurance companies; chiropractic is far cheaper, a good deal safer, but it's still an expensive business if you go through the process to get properly better.

If you don't, be it medical or chiropractic care, all that happens is the pain will start all over again within a few weeks or months, and then you're back to square one. These lower back and leg pain exercises are an important part of that process that we glibly call prevention, but often totally ignore once the pain has gone.

Snakes and ladders is not the way to manage lower back and leg pain; exercises are vital.

The Slump test and a simpler version known as the Flip.

The nerve from the lower lumbar spine is called the sciatic nerve; an irritation or impingement causes sciatica, a painful condition affecting the buttock, back of the thigh and lower leg and either the side of the foot, or the area around the great toe. 

Try to note as accurately as you can which part of your leg is affected before consulting your chiropractor. Try pricking the leg with a pin, and comparing it with the other leg; just where is it hypersensitive or numb?

There is a simple test you can do at home called the Slump test for sciatica. Sitting in an ordinary kitchen chair, have someone gently straighten first the other knee, and then the naughty leg. 

I like to think of five levels of slipped disc:

  1. Just pain in the back. A bulge.
  2. Back pain plus tingling, numbness or pain in the leg. A protrusion.
  3. Back pain plus actually sensory changes in the leg when pricked with a pin. A prolapse.
  4. Back pain plus motor weakness; can you lift your great toe, and stand on the toes? Is your knee buckling. Extrusion into the intervertebral foramen causes severe leg pain.
  5. Much less back pain, but severe symptoms and signs in the leg. The sequestrated disc.

Obviously as you progress down the list, you have to take these slipped disc rules increasingly seriously if you want to escape surgery. 

Sciatica too is an everyday event at the Chiropractic Coalface, but each case is unique and clinically challenging. If your chiropractor tells you to stop, then stay at home, don't sit and go to bed, doing gentle back exercises and taking short walks around the house every hour. 

If you are a smoker, then stop; it's the single most important factor in whether you'll get better or not. That disc and nerve needs all the oxygen it can get to heal. Easier said than done, I know, but perhaps it's a good time to quit permanently. Smoking knocks on average 7 years off your life, and the end will be S-H-one-T. 

There's help for sciatica pain, but you also have to help yourself; the pain and disability associated with a slipped disc is not to be underestimated.

It's a generalisation, but sciatica tends to affect the younger person, and the femoral nerve lesion the older patient. All must do lower back and leg pain exercises, or the next episode is just around the corner.

Once you are well over the crisis, this beginner Ab workout will help you recover your strength; do them every day. Having had a crisis like this, my advice is that lower back and leg pain exercises should continue for life; like you brush your teeth, or a diabetic must walk daily. Otherwise within a month or two, perhaps longer if you're lucky, it'll be back. The cure lies in your hands, not your doctor's. 

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

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Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.

You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

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Knowing that up to 70 percent of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there is a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong. Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

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