Alternative exercises if back extensions too painful?

Posted , 3 users are following.

Hi all,

Five months ago I prolapsed a disc at L5/S1, causing "partial compression of exiting right L5 root and compression of right S1 root causing radiculopathy". I received this official diagnosis from an orthopaedic consultant on 24 April as a result of an MRI scan I had on 30 March.

From my first ever appointment for this condition with a physiotherapist (which was late January this year) I had dutifully been carrying out my McKenzie back extensions as instructed by the physio, plus other pilates exercises as and when I felt able to do them.

However a few weeks ago I had a horrible, incredibly painful muscle spasm in my lower back which resulted in my taking a week off work and being unable to walk more than a few steps without significant pain. Now I feel like I'm back at square one - trouble getting comfortable sleeping again, can't walk more than about 100m without bad pain in my thigh and calf, can't bend to do shoes/socks/tights and so on, can't get out of bed without having to do some kind of sideways roll and hoping for the best! These are all the things I've seen a reduction in over the last few months and I was so hoping I was getting better.

Slightly worryingly, I've just over the last two weeks started to get numbness and pins and needles in my foot, along the outer side and in my three smallest toes. That's a first.

I'm on the waiting list for a cortisone injection (which might not be until August apparently) , but I want to keep up my stretching and exercises in the meantime. Question is, what do I do? McKenzie back extensions cause way too much pain as I can barely lie on my front without extreme pain in my buttock and back of thigh right now. All the research I'm doing is suggesting some kind of back extension and I just cant do it right now - I've considered loading up on the co-codamol & pushing through the pain but it just feels wrong in my gut, like my body is telling me not to.

This post has become much longer than I intended! I'm awaiting a call from my physio to get his opinion and hopefully an appointment but my PCT has a pretty poor physio department in my opinion, it'll be a month before I see anyone!

Any help or suggestions anyone can give would be so appreciated...I want so badly to get better and do all I can to heal, just not at the snail's pace the NHS seems to operate at!

With huge and sincere thanks in advance,


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  • Posted


    its a shame you have had no responses as I am in exactly in the same boat. I see you r post was 12m ago. I would love to hear if you managed to get sorted as I just don't know what to do. 

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    • Posted

      Hi there. I'm so sorry you're in so much pain, I remember it so clearly! If it's any consolation, I am totally healed now. I had a caudal epidural on the NHS in May last year, I had to push and push and beg and beg to be brought to the top of the waiting list but I got there in the end. It was like a miracle - the day after the procedure I had zero pain and it's never come back (well, I have a few sciatica niggles now and again but nothing at all like before). Between posting my message above and having the caudal epidural I concentrated on doing very light Pilates, mostly following videos I found on YouTube that said they were specifically for prolapsed/slipped discs and I found a local Pilates class where the teacher was happy to tailor some of the moves for me and also let me sit the painful ones out. I REALLY dosed up on my very strong codeine tablets before those classes! I bought a book called "The Egoscue Method - Healing Through Motion" and also did the exercises I could from that. I abandoned the Mackenzie stretches as they were just too much, and instead did as much as I could to stretch my hamstrings and glutes (the prior tightness of both I believe was responsible for my disc problem). I stopped work after speaking to my Occupational Health department and got signed off for a month or two, and my company provided me with six sessions of physiotherapy at a private practice. I don't know if you're working but it was really beneficial to just concentrate on being gently active all day rather than sitting in an office chair. I used a TENS machine, and had reflexology which I found completely invaluable - not because it brought total relief but because it helped me relax and for the rest of the day after my reflexology sessions the pain was manageable. The reflexologist taught me visualisation, and every night before bed I would visualise a little man travelling into my sciatic nerve and soothing it with a cooling balm - sounds mad but it really helped when the pain was driving me mad anyway. I spent a lot of time just lying on my back on the floor on top of a folded duvet, and made sure I went for regular but very small, gentle walks. When I could manage it I took warm baths with dead sea salts in them, but always made sure my husband was around to help me in and out. In the end though, it was the caudal epidural that was my saviour, and I'd really suggest being very very pushy with your GP to refer you to the physiotherapy department at your local hospital and get under the care of a consultant. I made sure I was very clear with them about exactly how the pain was affecting my life, about all the things i was doing to try and help myself, and how all I wanted was to get back to work and back to my horse riding and be a normal functioning person again! I think that really helped push me to the top of the list.

      So that's my experience. As you know when you're in chronic debilitating pain it's hard to think straight, let alone try and sift through all the stuff online trying to find that magic exercise that works.

      I really really hope things improve for you soon, I really do - will cross my fingers for you!

      All the best, Nicola

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    • Posted


      I'm laid up in bed thanks to my ongoing back problems as I type this!

      I hope I don't knock you with what I'm about to tell you, I will let you know what I've done and had done with the hope that you realise we are all different and what works for you, no matter what it is, is what you should do, no matter how mad it may seem.

      I started with light moves, via Physio is always best, if not the internet will offer you basic instructions - cobra lift, child pose etc. Learn to listen to you body, if it hurts it tells you it's too much - keep it light and gradually move on. The key is not to aggravate but to gently place back into a less painfull position. You may feel a little sore but not more pain. 

      Ive tried all the reflex, chiro, TENS, alternative stuff, personally for me, it didn't touch a thing, that should never stop you though, I don't and have never believed in alternative methods and so I'm sure this obviously didn't help. If you can embrace these types of methods they should help. It did cost me money though, if you have the money or access via your NHS for free, go with the free option first before pulling out cash. Again, the internet advises for free, but be careful you don't hurt yourself.

      I've had the nerve root injections, again not a thing for me but they often cure, if offered to you, take them, it hurts a bit but isn't that few seconds of pain worth it to get rid of long term agony?

      Finally, and the most major, I've had surgery, and yes it cured it - I had three prolapsed discs and foot drop. Surgery should be your last option, and only because of the severity of my condition did I go ahead with it.

      Guess what, for a year it worked then one disc popped out the other side and I was back to square one, but do you know what, that's me and my story, we all have one. I'm one case in many and I'm always pleased to hear folks have been cured with whatever treatments they have tried.

      You probably couldn't mention much I haven't tried however, what I'm trying to get through to you is that you do what you feel is right for you or possibly what you can afford to do. I understand your pain and how down and frustrated you get but you will find a method that helps. Keep positive and don't let it control you, you are  in charge. 

      Best wishes to you in whatever path you take :0)

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    • Posted

      That's such great advice. Everyone is different and all you can do is try different options to see what works. I'm so sorry to hear that another of your discs popped, poor poor you! I have always been terrified of that happening. I never picked my horse riding back up again because of it - I rode once or twice after I felt I was "healed" and it just felt too dangerous. I do Pilates once or twice a week now to keep my core strong to prevent a reoccurrence. 

      Tara, how are you getting on?


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    • Posted

      Hi. I  have had an epidural injection and 2 cortisone injections at the same time.  For two weeks after I was in a lot of pain and felt like I had gone back a couple of months. I'm not so bad now. I can potter about the house and the most I can manage is a 20 minute walk.  I'm still taking gaberpentin & diazepam . The shooting pains have pretty much gone now but my back just feels so stiff and aches chronically. 

      I don't feel that I'm improving much at all. I have 4 year old twins and work 3 days a week which is sitting in an office. I am just getting so so down that I just can't live a normal family life, go shopping, to the park etc. 

      the consultant said that from the MRI it showed discs 3 & 4 and facet joints 2,3 and 4 all have degenerative disease but it's not bad enough to operate. 

      Hard to keep my chin up 4 months down the line. 

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