A bulging disc in the neck is a fairly serious injury. However, it is not always an injury that can be identified by a specific injury event. Often, a bulging disc will develop due to overuse or a lack of strength over time.
Below, is a first-hand experience of an active individual that was diagnosed with a bulging disc. They discuss their diagnosis process and the experience they had treating and recovering from their neck injury.
How did you injure your neck?
My original injury actually occurred when I was pretty young, about 12 years ago.
I was playing high school football and remember a specific event in which I felt a very warm sensation shoot down my spine and arm. I went to the doctor after the injury and was diagnosed with a bulging disc.
What was done at about the bulging disc?
I was told that rest and typical injury treatment protocols (ice, rest, NSAIDS) would help in the short term.
However, there was talk of potential surgeries and other more aggressive forms of treatment if my symptoms worsened over the coming weeks.
What were your initial symptoms?
Initially, the bulging disc caused me to have a stiff neck and some pretty bad headaches for the first few weeks.
This dissipated over the course of a few weeks; however, I was very aware of how easy it felt like my symptoms could return if I was to even slightly injure my neck again.
What treatment options did you pursue for your neck injury?
I went to see a chiropractor initially – and then again in the future. There seems to be a lot of controversy around the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments for these kinds of injuries.
For what it’s worth, the adjustments themselves did not seem to offer me any help in recovery or symptom reduction.
Luckily, several of the chiropractors that I saw over time did additional therapies that I do think offered some help in relief and recovery.
What therapies for your bulging neck worked?
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When I consistently leveraged “traction” I noticed significant improvements in my day-to-day mobility and recovery from the bulging disc. Traction is a form of rolling your spine.
You can do this with a foam roller or machines that some chiropractors have that do this automatically. Both forms seemed equally effective.
I also found a lot of benefit from decompression therapy; although there are many forms of this that I think aren’t as effective as others.
For example, hanging upside down with gravity boots or using one of the water bags in the contraption that straps your neck to a doorway to pull up on your neck – decompressing the spine – seemed to offer the biggest benefits.
The inflatable products in this category seemed effective (and I tried several) as well.
How long did it take to recover from the bulging disc?
The initial injury took several weeks to recover from; however, not everyone has an initial injury from what I understand.
In my case, the initial injury was the start of a long-term chronic injury that I probably could have treated better and experienced a better prognosis.
Although I did recover from the initial injury quickly, I did little to strengthen my neck afterward and quickly had symptoms reoccur after similar injuries in the future.
Later in life, activities like Jiu Jitsu, running and lifting weights all aggregated this bulging disc injury.
After each time I inflame the injury now, I would estimate that the time it takes until things calm down is approximately 10-14 days.
What kinds of things help prevent the aggravation of a bulging disc?
For me, posture seems to play a big role. Avoiding long instances where my posture is slumped or compromised seems to play a big role in avoiding injuries.
When I have long plane flights, long sessions at a desk, or similar experiences where I may not be paying close attention to my posture, my neck will get stiff. When my neck gets stiff, simple activities like running can cause the injury to flare up.
What are some good long-term rehab exercises for a bulging disc?
I have found yoga to be a really helpful preventative strategy. It helps ensure large parts of the body don’t get too tight or locked up.
When I get particularly tight in different parts of my body, I notice I am much more susceptible to aggravation.
Also, postural corrective exercises seem to help me a lot with ensuring that I don’t slip into bad habits with posture.
Everyday, I stand with my back to a wall and attempt to tuck my chin back into my chest. This seems to help me with instances of bad posture throughout the week.
Do you wish you had treated the bulging disc differently at first?
Yes. I wish I would have rested better and focused more on posture and recovery, initially. After the first injury, I was still very young and relied solely on my body’s natural healing to recover fast.
However, I did not give the neck injury much respect. Looking back, I wish I would have been more conservative with my return to normal activities.
When should someone see a medical doctor for what they believe might be a bulging disc?
I saw one right away because of the initial injury. However, if you did not have a major injury at first, if you experience numbness or burning in your arm, these are typically signs of some form on impingement.
This may not be due to a bulging disc, but it means there is some form of inflammation causing an issue.
If the issue is severe or persists, it is likely a smart decision to see a doctor for imaging. An MRI can offer an exact view of what is going on. An X-ray or ultrasound will not provide a diagnosis for a bulging disc. They can only offer a diagnosis for other potential injuries that – most of which are less common.
My advice is that if you think you have a bulging disc or severe injury, go see a doctor and have imaging done.
Otherwise, treat it conservatively. There are a lot of worthless treatment options out there that are inexpensive but offer little benefit.
I would treat yourself or see an MD and explore other options as you better understand the nature of your specific neck injury.
As always, consult a physician, not the internet if you have a serious injury.
Tyler is an award-winning entrepreneur, former athlete, and founder of several successful online publications about sports, health, and well-being. Tyler has both a storied career in business and as an author/writer — contributing to publications like Forbes, The Harvard Business Review, The New York Post, and many more. A former competitive athlete, Tyler is now the founder of InjuryHealthBlog.com.