The discs themselves have no nerves and so are not the actual site of pain, instead it is the bulging material which can cause a pinched nerve in neck which is responsible for the development of pain. As bulging discs may remain asymptomatic for many years before herniation it is important to keep your back and neck as healthy as possible with regular exercise in order to prevent the sudden onset of symptoms and the necessity of surgery or long-term medication. A bulging disc in the neck is significantly easier to help heal than a herniated disc.
Improving, and maintaining, blood supply to the cervical spine and the discs themselves is very important in order to achieve good results when trying to aid a bulging disc. Before conducting any stretches or strengthening exercises it is a good idea to carry out a simple warm-up to get the blood flowing and oxygen and nutrients pumped into the cervical spine. An easy way to do this is to march on a jogger trampoline for five minutes prior to any further exercise. Do not jump on the trampoline as this may jolt your neck, a simple steady march whilst looking forward and with your arms to your sides will help to warm you up. This activity is also excellent for building bone-density and subtly works all of the muscles in the back and neck to maintain the body’s balance.
Another good warm-up exercise is bouncing for five minutes on an exercise ball, again make sure the movement is not too over-enthusiastic. Sit on the ball and keep your head looking forwards with your arms to your side and bounce gently up and down. This will help get the vital nutrients to the spinal tissues to promote healing of a bulging cervical disc and is a good pre-stretching exercise.
Healing Bulging Discs
Most bulging discs in the neck are a result of some kind of injury or trauma, and the exercises appropriate to each specific person will differ. In general, however, the weakness in the cervical discs can be helped with general exercises, taking care to avoid particular stretches that put undue strain on a healing bulging disc. Exercises can be conducted in conjunction with painkilling medications and muscle relaxants as discussed with your physician, but you should remain aware that these medications may prevent your body from alerting you to pain from a movement that is unsuitable so take things easy when performing bulging disc neck exercises if you are taking these medications.
A few moves to avoid
One specific movement of note that should be avoided by anyone trying to heal a bulging disc is a flexion-rotation movement. This would involve flexing your head forward and rotating it to the side at the same time. This kind of movement puts a lot of strain on the cervical discs and may weaken them further. You should avoid this particular type of exercise until you are sure that the disc is fully healed.
Bulging Disc Exercise Frequency
Conduct your warm-up exercises (the trampoline and/or exercise ball bouncing) daily prior to your stretching exercises and try to do strengthening exercises three days a week or so, with a break in between in order to allow the strengthening muscles to recuperate. There are a couple of commonly recommended neck exercises to help with cervical disc bulge namely the chin tuck and shoulder blade squeezes. These may be suggested by your physiotherapist as part of a larger regime of neck exercises for your bulging disc or may be conducted on a daily basis to help stretch and strengthen the neck musculature. Make sure that you discuss any new exercises with your doctor or physio prior to commencing a new regime and cease any activity that causes a worsening of symptoms.
Chin Tucks and Shoulder Squeezes
For chin tucks begin by standing tall or sitting with your back and neck straight, shoulders slightly back. Tuck your chin in whilst keeping your head facing forward and your gaze steady in front of you. You should feel a mild stretch with no pain; if it hurts then stop immediately and see your doctor. Hold the pose for a couple of seconds and repeat in sets of ten each day.
For shoulder blade squeezes hold the same position as for the chin tuck and then squeeze your shoulder blades together for five seconds or so as far as you can, again make sure there is no pain just the feeling of the stretch. Repeat ten times on a daily basis.
Cervical Decompression and Acupressure
A further exercise is a little less active, and simply involves rolling a hand towel and placing it beneath your neck in order to gently stretch the cervical spine back out. A large number of those with bulging neck discs have some degree of straightening of the spine and this gentle stretch can help to correct that abnormality in curvature. For added benefit try doing this with an acupressure mat in place of the towel as this can help to stimulate further circulation to the cervical spine, thus promoting more rapid healing and pain relief. If the stretch feels too much then reduce the size of the towel until comfortable. Placing a thin cloth over the acupressure mat may be advisable the first few times until you become used to the sensation of the acupressure points. See the image below