If you have signs and symptoms of a disc herniation including sciatica, low back pain, or any pain that goes into the leg... this simple exercise may be a game changer!
Don't want to read? Watch the video HERE (or scroll to the bottom)!
What Is A Lumbar Disc Herniation?
Let's talk about a disc in the low back. The middle is a gel. It's wrapped up really tight with fibrous tissue.
Through repetitive stress or trauma (for example) that gel can make its way through that fibrous wrapping and end up outside of the disc.
...well, your body doesn't like it when that gelatinous disc material leaves it's home!
The body can have an inflammatory response to this disc material or the material can even push directly against one of the nerves in your low back... no bueno!
This can result in pain, numbness, tingling, even weakness into the leg!
How This Exercise Helps
This exercise works by helping create a little more space in the low back. It attempts to open up the foramen in the spine which can relieve symptoms.
The foramen (intervertebral foramen) are the openings you have on the side of your spine between the vertebrae.
The nerves coming from your spine exit these foramen and then go throughout your body.
So, the idea is if we open those foramen up and create a little more space... there's more space for your nerves and it could relieve your symptoms a bit... not a bad idea!
Is There Any Evidence To Support This Exercise?
Great question! In 2022 there was a pilot study of 20 people with lumbar radiculopathy who presented to an emergency department. All of them had MRI confirmed medium to large disc herniations.
They were split into 2 groups of ten. One group was randomized into a self-treatment group utilizing the foraminal opening exercise.
Compared to the control group the group performing the exercise had significant improvements over the control group.
Their pain scores were lower, they scored better on functional outcome assessments and consumed less medications including opoids than the control group.
They also had improvement with the straight leg raise test (laying on your back lifting the leg with the knee straight).
... Oh and there were no adverse responses (study cited below).
So, to summarize. A group of people had significant enough pain to go to the emergency department. Had an MRI confirmed disc herniation. Followed an exercise protocol and had significant improvements without any adverse events.
Sounds like a win!
The Foraminal Opening Exercise For Low Back Disc Herniations
Step 1) Lay on your side (painful side up) and and flex your hips to about 90 degrees
(I like using a couch, side of the bed or even putting a few chairs together which makes for a firmer surface)
Step 2) Allow your shins to swing down off the surface you're laying on. This should laterally bend your pelvis
Step 3) Hold this position for 1-2 minutes. It can be repeated if desired.
About The Author
Dr. Dustin Henry is a busy father of 2, husband, combat veteran and sports chiropractor. He focuses on helping people get out of pain and improve their health by adding simple strategies into their daily routine even if they're short on time! He has a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician and has a Master of Science degree in Exercise and Sports Science.
References: Michael Shacklock, Marinko Rade, Siniša Poznic, Anita Marčinko, Michael Fredericson, Heikki Kröger, Markku Kankaanpää & Olavi Airaksinen(2022)Treatment of Sciatica and Lumbar Radiculopathy with an Intervertebral Foramen Opening Protocol: Pilot Study in a Hospital Emergency and In-patient Setting,Physiotherapy Theory and Practice,DOI: LINK