The term bulging disc is often incorrectly used interchangeably with herniated disc:
- A bulging disc is when a disc flattens and extends past the normal space of the bones in the spine (vertebrae).
- A herniated disc is when damage to the disc’s outer ring (annulus fibrosus) occurs, causing the interior, gel-like material (nucleus pulposus) to seep out.
A bulging disc in the neck (cervical spine) can develop with age and happens more frequently than a herniated disc.
With a bulging disc, you may experience pain in the arms or shoulders, rather than the neck. The bulging disc can put pressure on nerves, causing tingling, numbness and possibly weakness in the hands, arms or shoulders. You may also find it harder to lift items that normally wouldn’t give you much trouble or feel like one side of your body is weaker than the other.
While you should consult your doctor for any condition giving you chronic pain, there are some basic stretches and low-impact exercises that may help relieve the pain.
Stretches & Exercises that May Help a Bulging Disc in the Neck
These exercises and stretches may help manage pain from a bulging disc.
- Shoulder Stretch – To improve posture that may have worsened due to the bulging disc, try a shoulder stretch. While it may seem almost too simple, fixing your posture can play a significant role in relieving pain and pressure in the cervical region, as well as relaxing the shoulders and upper back. You can perform this stretch anywhere, anytime during the day.
Start by holding your hands together behind your back, interlacing your fingers. Slowly lift your locked hands up, and stop when you feel a good stretch at the very front of your shoulders. Hold the stretch for about 10-15 seconds, and then gently unwind back to how you started. You can repeat the shoulder stretch two or three more times.
- Chin Tucks – To target the upper cervical area, underneath your skull, chin tucks can provide a satisfying stretch. Just like shoulder stretches, you can do this stretch anywhere at any time, whether it’s at your desk or while you’re out running errands. If you’re at home, try using a mirror to ensure you’re maintaining proper posture during the exercise.
Stand tall with your head facing forward and shoulders pulled back. Then lightly bend your head down until you feel a moderate stretch in the neck. If you’re going for a deeper stretch, tuck the chin a bit more. Hold the stretch for about 2 seconds and then return to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.
- Shoulder-Blade Squeeze – To target the lower cervical region, try the shoulder-blade squeeze. It may help relieve pain and tension in the lower neck, and you can maximize the stretch by sitting in an armless chair.
Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, back straight, chin slightly tucked and arms hanging loosely at your sides. Gradually pull your shoulders back and bring your shoulder blades together until you feel a mild pull. Hold the position for about 10 seconds. This stretch should not cause any pain, so loosen the stretch if needed. After the 10 seconds, release and repeat two or three more times.
- Trampoline Exercises – Exercising on a small jogger trampoline is an excellent way to warm up the muscles and stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the cervical spine. Extra benefits include strengthening bone density and improving body balance.
Step onto the trampoline and steadily march for about 5 minutes as a warm-up or longer as the exercise itself. Make sure not to jump on the trampoline, since this can cause your neck to jolt and create more pain or damage to the region.
- Stability Ball Exercises – Bouncing on an exercise ball is a low-intensity exercise to help relieve bulging disc pain. The soft bounce can invigorate your blood flow and allow the spinal cord to effectively receive all the nutrients it needs to properly heal.
Carefully sit on the exercise ball and look forward with your arms resting at your sides. Gently bounce up-and-down on the ball, limiting any rapid movements, for about 5 minutes as a warm-up or longer as the exercise itself.
Try other low-intensity exercises, such as yoga and swimming, but talk to your doctor beforehand to make sure certain movements won’t cause any further disturbance to the spine.
Exercises to Avoid
To protect the neck, you’ll want to avoid any exercises that may shock the cervical spine, such as weightlifting. Avoid other exercise or activities that require you to bend forward or use your arms or shoulders in front of your body, which could potentially irritate the bulging disc.
If exercising combined with other conservative treatments are not helping your condition, surgery may be an option, such as replacing the degenerated disc with an artificial disc like the Mobi-C Cervical Disc. Talk to your doctor or consult with a surgeon to find the best treatment plan for you.
Zimmer Biomet does not practice medicine and makes no representations regarding the third-party information provided herein. These exercises are not a replacement for professional physical therapy or conservative treatment. If you are experiencing chronic pain, consult a doctor to see what treatments might be appropriate by clicking the Reference links contained herein, you will be leaving the Zimmer Biomet website and will be redirected to the applicable Reference website(s) of which Zimmer Biomet has no affiliation.