The human spinal cord is made up of 24 vertebrae. The topmost seven vertebrae lie in the region of the neck and are known as the cervical spine. There is a disc filled with gel between every vertebra. These discs act as the shock absorber and facilitates the movement of the spine. If these discs get damaged, they can bulge out and can push back into the spinal canal region. Usually, it has been seen that the disc bulges on any one side of the canal. This is why people suffering from such conditions often experience pain and a kind of tingling sensation on just a single side of their bodies. Such bulging discs in neck can be painful and can give rise to intense pain in the region of the chest, shoulders, and arms. You can also feel a sensation of numbness in your fingers and arms. Bulging discs are the first stage of the crisis, which if not treated on time, can lead to herniated discs where the discs get fully ruptured(1) and thus fixing it without delay becomes extremely important.
How to Fix a Bulging Disc in Neck?
Bulging discs in the neck even though painful, can be treated in different ways. Several steps and actions can be taken so that the pain can be managed and the disc can heal. Generally, these discs heal within six weeks. In the conservative treatment method, the discs are healed through the administration of medicines, limiting the movement of the person.(2) In really a few cases, less than 10%, the patient might be suggested surgery.
Medicines As A Way To Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck:
There could be different kinds of medicines prescribed to manage the pain and discomfort associated with bulging disc. The types of medicines include:
- OTC Medication: This type of medication is generally advised for cases that are mild and where the main aim is to manage the pain of the patient. Some of the most common over the counter pain medication given by doctors in such conditions are ibuprofen like Motrin IB, Advil, and others, acetaminophens like Tylenol and naproxen sodium like Aleve.(3)
- Muscle Relaxers: These medicines are generally given if you are suffering from muscle spasms. Administration of these drugs can lead to dizziness and even sedation as some of the regular side effects.(3)
- Cortisone Injections to Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck: When the pain does not diminish with the administration of OTC and muscle relaxers, the doctor can suggest the use of corticosteroid injections. The injection will be given in the area of the nerves of the spinal cord. An image of the spinal region must be taken while giving the injection for proper administration.(3)
- Opioids: If none of the mentioned drugs helps in relieving the pain, then the doctors may suggest short term application of opioids like an oxycodone-acetaminophen combination like Roxicet and Percocet or Codeine. Only short-term usage of these medicines is prescribed as the patient is always at a risk of getting addicted to them over some time. Some of the common side effects will be nausea, sedation, constipation and confusion.(3,4)
Physical Therapies to Fix a Bulging Disc in the Neck:
In addition to the medicines and the drugs, the doctors can also prescribe certain supportive therapies that can help to soothe down the pain and improve your mobility. One such form of therapy is the physical therapy that will be administered through professional physical therapists. They can show the patient different exercises and positions that will help to reduce and manage the pain of bulging discs. Also, you can try the at-home devices of traction that will soothe the pressure on the affected nerves.(5)
Exercises to Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck:
Neck exercises are an integral part of the treatment process for bulging discs at the neck. They are often prescribed in a combination along with medicines, and other therapies. These exercises often include some very gentle muscle strengthening and neck stretching workouts. Stretching is one of the most effective ways through which the pain and the pressure of the area can be released. Usually, these exercises require a gentle forward and backward movement of the neck. Side to side movement is also an important part of such stretching. These exercises strengthen the muscles of the neck and provide better support to the spine. However, you should carry out these exercises at least initially in the presence of a physical therapist for the best results.(6)
Let us take a look at some of the effective neck exercises and stretches.
- Neck Extension Exercises to Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck: To do this exercise, you must lie down on a bed or a table and bring your neck at the edge of the bed or table. Now you must hang your head backward and keep it in that position for a minute. Then rest for a minute and repeat the exercise ten times. If you feel your pain is increasing or there is a sharp pain in your arms stop immediately and do not repeat the action.
- Neck Extension with Head Lift: In this exercise, lie down on a bed or a table on your stomach and hang your head down the edge. Rest your arms on both sides. Now lift your head against gravity and hold the position for ten seconds. Repeat the exercise ten times.
- Neck Retraction: To do this exercise, you must lie down on a bed or a table on your back and your head must be on the bed or the table. Keep your hands on the sides. Next, tuck your head inside so that your chin touches your chest and a double chin is formed. The position must be held for ten seconds and then released. Repeat for twenty times.
- Shoulder Retraction to Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck: In this exercise, you must stand or sit against a wall. Rest your arms on both sides. Now, the arms must be bent at the elbow at a ninety-degree angle. Next, the shoulders must be brought down, squeezed together and the back of the arms must be pushed against the wall. Repeat the exercise for 10 times.
Surgery to Fix Bulging Disc in the Neck:
Even though the number of people suffering from bulging discs of the neck who requires a surgical intervention is really few, the process is quite simple and safe. Surgery for treating bulging discs at the neck is suggested only when all the previous methods of treatments fail to reduce and cure the pain. If you continue to have symptoms like weakness and numbness, persisting pain, problems in walking and standing up, loss of bowel and bladder control over six weeks, then a doctor will suggest surgery. In most of the cases, the surgeons removed the part of the disc which is affected and is in a protruding condition. In very rare cases the entire disk is removed. In such cases however the vertebrae are fused with bone grafting. In other cases, an artificial disc can be implanted in your spine.(1,2,3)
Other Measures to Fix a Bulging Disc in the Neck
Apart from the above-mentioned measures, certain other additional measures can help to improve the recovery rate of your discs in the neck. They are:
- Cervical Pillow: These pillows can improve the quality of your sleep and can provide better support to your neck. This can heighten the healing rate of your neck.(7)
- Herbal Remedies: There are several herbal medicines and supplements available in the current market which can soothe and improve the condition of your neck, shoulder, and arm pain like massage with pain-relief oils that are made of various herbal extracts.
- Ice and Moist Heat Application to Fix Pain Related to Bulging Disc in the Neck: You can put some ice cubes in a towel and can apply the towel to the affected region for a span of ten to twenty minutes. This can be repeated three to five times a day. Heat can be applied at a later stage when the pain has soothed down a little.(7)
- Maintain an Active Lifestyle: Excess bed rest is also not very good for this condition. This can lead to weak muscles and stiff joints and can complicate and weaken the procedure of recovery. Instead, you can take rest for thirty minutes at a stretch in a position which is comfortable for you. Then get up and go for a walk.
- Avoid Lifting Weight: Lifting weight can be strenuous for the vertebrae and the neck muscles and thus increase the pain further. You must avoid lifting any weight until complete recovery.(7)
Bulging discs in the region of the neck is a problem that occurs when too much pressure is put on an otherwise healthy spine. Bulging disc in the neck can affect people of any age. However, it is the middle-aged adults who tend to develop the symptoms. Proper rest, sitting and sleeping postures, exercise, and weight management can help you to keep the condition at bay. We often neglect neck pain as a simple symptom of tiredness. This is true, however, if the pain persists and gets worse with time it will be prudent to consult a doctor at the earliest.
- Cervical Disk Herniation. (n.d.) Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/cervical-disc-herniation
- Herniated disk. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/herniated-disk/
- Kuijper B, et al. (2009). Cervical collar or physiotherapy verses wait and see policy for recent onset cervical radiculopathy: Randomized trial. https://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b3883