Herniated disk, more commonly known as slipped disk, is an extremely painful spinal condition usually affecting middle-aged people. It is also known as ‘bulging disk’, and occurs when sudden pressure is put on the spinal cord.
Our spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae stacked on top of each other. These bones are separated by rubber-like disks whose function is to allow easy movement and cushion the vertebrae against sudden pressure. When this disk ruptures, it is known as slipped disk.
A disk is at risk of rupturing when a lot of pressure is applied to the spine during bending or twisting, or lifting of heavy things. It is a culmination of age related wear, but can also be caused by bad posture and general ergonomics.
When you rupture a disk, it starts to leak and irritates the nerves around it, causing pain around the region and weakness. Typically, when your herniate a disk around the neck or upper spine, the region between your shoulders and hand experiences pain that is usually called ‘pinched nerve’.
In orthopedic terms, this ache that you feel is known as “Cervical Radiculopathy”. While it is usually known to cause lethargy, weakness or a burning sensation around the shoulder-arm region, it also known to result in paralysis in extreme cases.
While treating pain from a slipped disk is often a long process, there is a plethora treatment options available. When your rupture is fresh, your doctor will advise complete bed rest and prescribe painkillers to make your discomfort bearable. After some time has passed and your pain has lessened, your doctor will introduce you to physical therapy and neck exercises, before resorting to surgery as your last option.
Neck exercises are done to alleviate pain from a ruptured disk and restore affected limbs to comfortable movement. They are aimed at pushing the disk away from the root of the nerves to relieve pain. Read on to find out how to relieve neck pain through the following exercises. Consult with your doctor before doing it at home.
Neck Extension – This exercise requires lying on your back on a solid surface with the edge of your bed or table resting behind the nape of your neck. Gently, let your head hang backwards from the edge. Hold position for at least a minute, repeating anywhere between 5 to 15 times with 1-minute rest periods in between. Discontinue if this exercise aggravates pain in neck or arm.
Neck And Head Lift – As you would while performing neck extensions, lie on a flat surface with your neck hanging backwards off its edge. This time, extend your neck by raising your head very slowly. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds and loop 15 times.
Chin Tuck Stretch – This exercise includes lying on your back with your head resting flat against the bed and your arms by the side, and tucking your chin inwards, as if making a double chin. Hold neck in position for 10 seconds, then release and repeat up to 20 times.
Shoulder Squeeze – For this exercise, stand against a flat surface with arms flanking the sides. Bend your elbows at a right angle (90°), and squeeze the blades of your shoulder towards each other by bringing shoulders downwards and pushing your elbows towards the wall.
Isometric Exercise – Isometric exercises are a type of strength training. This particular neck-focused exercise requires you to sit straight with relaxed shoulders and place your hand on forehead. Then, without disturbing your pose, try to press your head into your hand. Stay in this position for 10 seconds, then repeat at least 15 times
Stretches differ from exercises in the sense that they are focused towards localising pain instead of relieving it. Neck stretches help to soothe pain by stretching the tight muscles around slipped disks that may be contributing to pain.
Lateral Bending Stretch – Sit straight with relaxed shoulders. Gently tilt your head towards one side as if touching ear to shoulder. Hold position for up to 30 seconds. Do this stretch 5 times a day with adequate rest periods in between.
Scalene Stretch – Sit up with your back as straight as possible and relax your shoulders. With a hand holding the your skull (occiput) in place, tilt it at an angle of roughly 45 degrees (or turn towards your armpit) in a slow movement. Hold position for 30 seconds. This stretch can be repeated throughout the day but make sure to leave adequate rest periods in between.
Rotating Stretch – Sit with a straight back, relaxed shoulders, and turn your head to the left. Try to rotate as far to your side as is comfortable. Do not try too hard or you could risk a twist in the neck. Repeat the movement on the right side. Hold position for 30 seconds and repeat multiple times during the day (3 – 5 times).
Even though the above mentioned exercises teach you how to relieve neck pain, some are known to increase pain and hinder the healing process. It is strongly advised to get the condition of your spine checked by your doctor before attempting neck stretches or neck exercises at home. If you experience shooting pain anywhere in your body, discontinue immediately and seek help if pain persists.
Cervical spinal surgeons recommend making exercise regimens as gentle as possible. Doing high-impact stretches with a slipped disk could aggravating your pain instead of soothing it, and may even slow down recovery. Completely steer clear of activities involving sudden, high pressure movements like jumping or running which can aggravate your condition from a temporary to a lifelong one.
Both the active approach (exercises and stretches) and passive approach (medication and rest) are essential for recovery. However, being diligent with exercises will increase blood circulation to spine while building your strength. It is, therefore, advised to rely on regular exercising more than external medications for faster healing.