3 Exercises to Help You Avoid Surgery for a Bulging Disc

Kate Keenan blog

Bulging discs can cause excruciating pain and a host of other issues to your back and limbs. If you go to your doctor, he or she will likely tell you that the best course of action is surgery, but this isn’t necessarily the case. A bulging disc can be treated successfully using non-invasive surgical methods, including chiropractic care and targeted exercises.

While a bulging disc can never fully be repaired to its original state, there are several ways in which it can be moved back into place and kept there. Surgery often requires removing a portion of the bulging disc, and more serious degeneration of the vertebrae may require a spinal disc fusion. Both of these procedures come with risks and a limited success rate. Instead, non-invasive care and physical therapy, along with exercises to help strengthen and stretch the disc space, have been shown to give long-term benefits with plenty of pain relief and minimal side effects.

What is a bulging disc?

A bulging disc is also sometimes called a herniated disc, but the two conditions are defined quite differently. A bulging disc occurs when the jelly-like disc that cushions the space between the vertebrae in the spine begins to bulge outwards, usually because of degenerative changes in the spine.

A herniated disc, on the other hand, occurs when a tear or crack appears in the outer portion of the disc, usually as a result of an injury or trauma. It protrudes farther into the spinal canal, causing more severe compression of the local nerves. A herniated disc’s symptoms typically come on very suddenly, whereas a bulging disc’s symptoms are more gradual or less severe.

The bulging disc can put pressure on the nerves that radiate out from the spine, and the reduced disc space can cause the vertebrae to begin to rub against one another. The continual touching of vertebrae is essentially bone-on-bone friction, which can cause bone spurs and arthritis.

Symptoms of a bulging disc

A bulging disc can occur anywhere in the spine, and each comes with its own unique symptoms. If you have a bulging disc in your cervical spine, you can experience:

  • pain with neck movement
  • shoulder pain
  • pain, numbness, weakness, and/or tingling in the arms, hands, and fingers

If you have a bulging disc in your thoracic or lumbar spine, you may experience:

  • localized or radiating pain with movement of the trunk, hips, and legs
  • pain, numbness, weakness, and/or tingling in the hips, legs, ankles, and feet
  • incontinence
  • sciatica

Luckily, in conjunction with chiropractic care, there are several exercises you can do to open the space between the vertebrae and lessen the pressure the disc is placing on your nerves.

1. Cat-cow yoga position

The cat-cow back stretches are an excellent way to slowly stretch your lower lumbar vertebrae apart, increasing blood flow to the spine and improving flexibility. It is one of many lower back pain exercises to help get you back on your feet. Begin by:

  • Starting with your hands out on the floor in front of you, and your knees folded underneath you.
  • Raise yourself into the table-top position, and slowly breathe in and out.
  • As you inhale, drop your stomach towards the floor, pulling your lower spine so that your back looks like a “U” shape, while arching your neck up to the ceiling.
  • Hold the position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Exhale, and arch your lower back up towards the ceiling while moving your head in between your shoulders to look at the floor.
  • Hold the position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat this exercise 3 times in sets of 10.
2. Neck extension

If your bulging disc is in your cervical spine, you can do some neck extension exercises to help relieve the pressure. Begin by:

  • Lying on your back on a bed or bench and hanging your head over the side while your neck is aligned with the edge.
  • Slowly lower your head so that it is hanging at a level which lightly stretches your neck without becoming too painful.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Slowly lift your head using your neck until your chin is facing your chest and hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat this exercise 3 times in sets of 15-20.
3. Half-cobra pose

If you have a bulging disc in your thoracic or lumbar spine, the half-cobra pose is a great way to push the disc back into position and relieve pressure on your nerves. Begin by:

  • Lying on your stomach on the floor, with your arms bent and pressed against your side and your head between your hands.
  • Inhale and slowly use your spine to lift your head and upper body while keeping your hips pressed against the floor and raising your head and neck towards the ceiling.
  • Hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
  • Exhale and slowly return to your starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise 3 times in sets of 15-20.

Final thoughts

Surgery can be dangerous and often ineffective for spinal injuries. By using exercises and chiropractic therapy to treat your bulging disc, you will find your symptoms disappearing or reducing significantly so you can get back to your family, your work, and enjoying your favorite activities.

Kate's interest in the medical field began with her mother, who worked as a Special Care Nursery nurse for 50 years. Kate began working in the medical field with a mobile X-ray company, where she continued to foster her interest and learn critical information about a variety of diseases and conditions, along with the processes of diagnosing and treating them. Kate has been writing professionally for 12 years, and she is working on her Masters in English. She loves dogs, good food, and the beach.