Herniated disc, bulging disc, slipped disc: Whatever you want to call it, this condition is extremely painful.

Herniated discs are most common in early to middle-aged adults. They’re often caused when too much pressure is put on an otherwise healthy spine. The spine is composed of many bony vertebrae, separated by jelly-like discs.

Herniated DiscShare on Pinterest

These discs cushion the joints during impact, allow for movement in the spine, and keep the vertebrae in place. A herniated disc occurs when a disc ruptures, causing the disc to leak, which irritates surrounding nerves. A herniated disc often occurs with lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting movements. Bad posture and poor ergonomics may also contribute to its likelihood.

When the herniated disc affects the nerves in a specific area of the spine, it can lead to pain and weakness in the area of the body that that nerve serves.

If a disc herniates in the neck or upper spine, it can cause pain to radiate down the shoulder, arm, or hand. This pain is called cervical radiculopathy. It’s more commonly referred to as a pinched nerve.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes that cervical radiculopathy may result in feelings of burning, tingling, and weakness in the arm, shoulder, or hand. In severe cases, it may also result in loss of feeling and paralysis.

Treatment

There are several treatment approaches for a herniated disc. Most doctors will recommend pain medication, rest, physical therapy, and other conservative treatments before considering surgery.

The following exercises may improve your neck pain from your herniated disc faster. The goal of these exercises is to push the disc back, away from the nerve root. Always be evaluated by your doctor before attempting exercise at home.

Dr. Jose Guevara from Regional Medical Group in Atlanta recommends these exercises to relieve your neck pain.

1. Neck extension

  1. Lie on your back on a table or bed with the bottom of your neck in line with the edge.
  2. Slowly and gently lower your head backward and let it hang. If this makes your pain worse, or sends pain down your arm, don’t continue.
  3. Hold this position for 1 minute, rest 1 minute, and repeat 5 to 15 times.

2. Neck extension with head lift

  1. Lie on your stomach on a table or bed with your arms by your side and head hanging off the bed.
  2. Slowly and gently raise your head up, extending your neck against gravity.
  3. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

3. Neck retraction (chin tuck)

  1. Lie on your back with your head on the bed and hands by your side.
  2. Tuck your chin in toward your chest, making a double chin.
  3. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

4. Shoulder retraction

  1. Sit or stand against a wall with your arms by your side.
  2. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  3. Bring your shoulders down and back and push the back of your arms toward the wall, squeezing your shoulder blades together.

5. Isometric hold

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders. Put your hand on your forehead.
  2. Press your head into your hand without moving your head.
  3. Hold this for 5 to 15 seconds. Repeat 15 times.

Stretching may benefit people with a bulging or herniated disc if they have tight muscles surrounding the area causing pain. Sometimes, stretching can make the pain worse and slow the healing process. Always stop any stretch if pain increases or radiates away from the spine.

For example, if a stretch causes a shooting pain down your shoulder and arm, don’t perform the stretch. The goal of stretching is to relieve pain, not increase it.

1. Lateral bend

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.
  2. Slowly tilt your head to one side as if you’re going to touch your ear to your shoulder.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then rest. Repeat 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

2. Scalene stretch

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.
  2. Place one hand on the back of your head. Slowly and gently tilt your head to look into your armpit at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds, rest, and repeat 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

3. Neck rotation

  1. Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.
  2. Gently turn your head to the side. Don’t overrotate your head behind you, and avoid twisting your neck.
  3. Slowly turn your head to the other side.
  4. Hold each position for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

Dr. Seth Neubardt, a board-certified cervical spine surgeon, recommends avoiding any high-impact exercises while your herniated disc is healing. Exercises like running, jumping, powerlifting, or anything that involves sudden sharp movements, can greatly increase your pain and slow down healing. It may even cause lifelong problems.

It’s still possible to participate in many of your usual activities. It’s important to modify challenging activities and keep your neck in a pain-free position.

Gentle exercise is beneficial to the healing process. This is because encourages increased blood flow to the spine, decreases stress, and maintains strength.

A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the effectiveness of active treatment (physical therapy and home-based exercise) and passive treatment (cervical collar and rest) for cervical radiculopathy versus a “wait and see” approach.

Both the active and passive treatment had a significant positive impact on pain and disability at the six-week follow-up, versus those who didn’t receive any treatment at all. This high-quality randomized control trial leaves little doubt that exercise helps heal cervical radiculopathy faster than waiting it out.