I am 20 years old. I had a disc herniation two years ago, before that it was more than 1.5 years. I have been feeling good for the past six months. I do regular exercises and gymming, swimming, little aerobics.

I want to learn karate. Will that do good for my back like swimming and aerobics did or is that a silly idea?

  • 6
    Have you spoken with a doctor about it? Aug 23, 2012 at 17:32
  • 3
    Have you done any weight lifting as part of the rehab?
    – Robin Ashe
    Aug 23, 2012 at 18:43
  • no i do not lift any heavy weights. though i wish i could lift but i have to take care that i dont get slip disc again because of weight lifting.
    – user655
    Aug 24, 2012 at 10:24
  • I have been suggested by the doctor to do cardio type exercise and stretchings, so that i do not get slip disc again. But i have not asked specifically about karate.
    – user655
    Aug 24, 2012 at 10:27
  • 2
    karate can be fairly broad in what it covers depending on the school and instructor. what specifically interests you about karate, and if you've thought about it, why karate and not some other martial art?
    – Robin Ashe
    Aug 24, 2012 at 10:53

2 Answers 2


Karate is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic activity. Those classifications in themselves are not a clue as to whether it is safe for you.

I am not a doctor, so I cannot give you a medical opinion. However I can offer you this perspective as an instructor:


  1. Karate emphasizes the use and development of core body muscles, which typically results in the alleviation of backpain.
  2. Karate keeps the body flexible, i.e. muscles have more elasticity and improved range of effectiveness. This can protect against back injuries.


  1. Karate is an intense activity, with sharp movement and sudden application of force to the floor. This can create stress in the spine.
  2. Contact during practice (with a bag, pad, block or person) means stress lateral to the orientation of the spine. This will be offset by the body muscles, but ultimately, the spine will be affected.

I can say with some confidence that these points will be true for all styles of karate. The only art I can think of that does not include the cons, is non-contact tai-chi forms practice.

I would suggest that you discuss this with a doctor and ideally with a specialist in sports medicine, to be safe.


I would say that if this is something you'd really like to do you might not want to let your back stop you but read further for details. If this something you're thinking of doing to help your back (but you're really not that interested in), I'd say, maybe not the best of activities. Of course you need to work with your doctor and understand your limitations before doing anything...that being said...

These are my own opinions and experiences but as someone who has been through the herniated disk experience where the pain was so bad I literally could not sit up or walk until after I had surgery and when, after surgery, I felt like a major league baseball player had hit me in the back with a bat and that pain felt like a relief compared to what I experienced before surgery I think I can offer a few thoughts.

From my own experience I think it really depends on where you take karate and the attitude of the sensei and students. When I began our senseis were in their 60s and had their share of health problems as many people their age do so they really understood what it meant not to be able to do something. This was a concern for me before I had a herniated disk because I was a woman "of a certain age" and went in to learn a martial art, to study something that took both mental and physical concentration, not to become a warrior, and not to get hurt.

I was about 2 years into karate when I had a herniated disk that required surgery and I was slow to recover both physically and mentally -- please note, I do believe this had nothing to do with karate. When I began studying again I was very clear with the senseis about what I felt comfortable doing and what I did not feel comfortable doing and they were perfectly fine with this and encouraged me to modify or do something else if I did not feel comfortable with the current activity.

As the years have passed since the surgery I've felt more comfortable working harder and adding in more moves but when something just seems too risky I just don't do it and work with the (now new) sensei to come up with an alternative. Falls are especially scary and we have modified requirements at belt levels to accommodate this.

My general thoughts about this are:

  • From my own experience I feel better when I do karate (as long as I am careful). I think there is something about the more free form type of movement as opposed to an exercise bike or elliptical which is so, so steady.
  • Everyone has some sort of limitation - whether they recognize it or not. People favor one side over the other, are too focused, not focused enough, don't have enough endurance, don't have quick reflexes. People (at least in my experience) don't stop because of these limitations. Having problems with your back is another of these limitations that you have to learn to deal with in your life. After something as devastating as a herniated disk one is grateful to just be walking pain free again so being able to do any moves is life-affirming and leaving out a few is really no big deal.
  • I think karate is about the journey and about being the best you can be and really coming to terms with this. Where I study we all have jobs and families and studies. We are not soldiers. We are pushing ourselves and helping each other and traveling along this path. For me, the benefits outweigh the risks and I'm very careful to keep it that way.
  • I think the coming to terms mentally with your vision for yourself and the reality of your physical situation is very powerful and allows you to embrace your humanity and empathy towards others.

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