At-Home Care For Cervical Disc Bulges

Cervical disc bulges can be a very painful condition. However, this condition can resolve very quickly with the proper at-home care. In this post, I'm going to give some tips for at-home care that can help a cervical disc bulge get better very quickly. If you know that you're dealing with a cervical disc bulge, follow these instructions - and you could be pain-free in no time.

Understanding the Mechanics

The first part of managing a cervical disc bulge is to understand what's going on. The discs in our spine are similar to a jelly donut. There is a hard outer shell with a gel center. This allows our discs to act as a cushion for the forces that go through our spine; they act as shock absorbers. Without our discs' protection, anytime we fell down, or had a hard bump into something, we would be at risk of compression fractures in our spine. Our discs help to absorb the force of these various blows, and they keep that force from being focused into the bones of our spine.

The structure of the disc actually moves with our spine. The gel and the center of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus. Whenever we bend our spine forward, that gel is pushed to the back of the disc and whenever we bend our spine backwards, the gel moves to the front of the disc.

If you think about it for a minute, you can see that most of our daily habits - things like computer usage, usage of cell phones and tablets, reading, and many others - cause our Cervical spine to bend forward. Very few of our common daily habits bend our Cervical spine backwards. Due to this mismatch in movement of our spine, the gel in the center of many of our discs, over time, can start to migrate towards the back of the disc. This eventually starts to put pressure on the outer shell of the disc in the back.

Eventually, this will start to weaken the outer shell and can lead to a bulge in the back of the shell. When this happens in our neck, it's referred to as a cervical disc bulge. This can cause pain and irritation in the neck and tightness in the muscles of the neck.

The other symptom that can be very painful when experiencing a cervical disc bulge is pain in the nerves that go into our arm. When the disc starts to bulge in the back, it can come into contact with the nerves that exit our neck, leading into our arms. This bulging can lead to pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the arm.

The proper home care will often allow Cervical Neck Bulges to get better very quickly. Below, I'm listing the best tips for things to do at home that can help you feel better as quickly as possible.

First: Put Out The Fire

The nerves in our neck react to inflammation differently than the nerves in our low back. The discs in our neck are prone towards excessive inflammation. Scientists have shown in research studies that the nerves in our neck can swell up to twice their normal size when in the presence of inflammation. This can make them twice as likely to get pressed on during a cervical disc bulge.

Second: Don't "Pick The Scab"

I often explain disc injuries to my patients as being similar to getting a cut on your knuckle. If you have a cut on your knuckle and you continually bend your finger all day long, the scab gets ripped open multiple times a day - clearly, it will take longer to heal.

A similar effect happens with disc injuries. Since bending our spine forward pushes the gel to the back -- then, every time you bend your spine forward while you have an irritated disc, that bending will cause the disc to become further irritated. This can lead to a constant cycle of pain.

So - when you have a Cervical Disc Bulge, after you've taken actions to STOP the Inflammation, the next tip for you is to limit how often you bend your neck forward (this stops "the scab" from reopening).

This tip alone can be a miracle that helps decrease/eliminate pain during a cervical disc bulge.

Third: Move The Jelly Back To The Center

Once you quit "picking the scab" each day, you'll notice the pain start to get better very quickly. The next step is to start to move the gel in the disc back to the center.

To do this, we have to use the motion of our spine to accomplish it. As I mentioned above, bending our spine forward too much moves the gel to the back. So in order to move the gel forward to the center, we have to bend our spine backwards often.

To do this, we use an exercise called a chin retraction. In the video above, you'll see this exercise demonstrated. You need to sit up tall and pull your chin backwards like you're giving yourself a double chin. Once you've moved your chin back as far as you can using the muscles of your neck, you will use two fingers on your chin to push your spine backwards even more. If you are having nerve pain going down into the arms, you want to make sure that you use two fingers of the arm that is not painful when you do this exercise.

When you do this action, the gel in the disc gets pushed to the back -- finally, after many years of bending our spine forward more than we've been bending it backwards. So in order to effectively reposition that gel correctly now, we have to bend our spine backwards a lot. At the beginning of a cervical disc bulge, you will want to do 10 of these chin retractions every two hours that you're awake.

Finally: Get The Pressure Off The Nerve

The final tip is to get the pressure off the nerves.*

*This tip should only be used if you're having nerve symptoms in one of your arms. When the disc presses on your nerves, it can change the way your nerves move in your arm when you're doing daily tasks.

There are usually three main nerves that can be affected when we have arm pain during a cervical disc bulge. These are the median nerve, the radial nerve, and the ulnar nerve. In order to improve how these nerves move, you would use the exercises shown below.

Each of these three nerves supplies different parts of your arm with sensation.

Note: You would want to do the exercises 1 to 2 times a day and do 10 repetitions each time. These exercises can greatly diminish the symptoms in the arm especially when paired with the chin retractions.

That's the Basics

So there you have it! Cervical disc bulges can create a very painful and debilitating condition.

But they can also resolve very quickly if managed correctly. If you know you are dealing with a cervical disc bulge, try these tips and you may likely find that your pain gets better very rapidly!

If you try these tips and are still in pain, your best course of action is to get treatment.

We treat these conditions every day at Movement Laboratory and are very successful at resolving this injury without surgery. Give us a call at 918-300-4084 and schedule an appointment today to let us help you with your cervical disc bulge!

By: John H. Keefe IV, D.C.

Check Yourself: Neck Assessments

The Neck Assessment is part of my new blog series, titled ----"Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself". In this series, I will be teaching mobility self-assessments and corrective exercise stretches. You will learn how to check the function of different areas of your body. If you find a problem, I will teach you step-by-step how to improve the movement in these areas.

Today I want to demonstrate three self-assessments for the neck. Those are:

Neck Flexion Assessment / Corrective Actions

The first self-assessment/test - for Neck Flexion - is shown in the video above. The goal of this assessment is to be able to touch your chin to your chest without separating your teeth (opening your jaw) in order to accomplish that.

This is a test that many people will not be able to do. Many of us, due to sitting and working on computers or looking at our other technology, become tight in areas that restrict this motion.

An inability to pass this test means that you are at increased risk for neck pain in general. You're possibly also prone to getting tension headaches, migraines, and jaw pain. If you're unable to pass this test, try the corrections listed below.

The first correction is shown in the video above. It requires the use of a "peanut" which is made by simply taping either two tennis balls or two lacrosse balls together.

There are two main muscle groups we want to target to help improve the Neck Flexion range of motion. The first are the muscles at the base of your skull.

Once you have finished this corrective action, repeat the test. You'll notice that you'll be able to bring your chin down closer to your chest.

Doing this once may not immediately enable you to pass this test, but if you work at it for just a week or two, you will likely be able to pass the test.

Left and Right Neck Rotation

The second self assessment looks at your ability to rotate your head from side to side. For this test, you're going to slowly turn your nose one direction as far as you can. Once you get as far as you can, try to bring your chin downwards to touch your collarbone. To pass this test, you should be able to touch your chin to about the middle of your collarbone on each side.

The muscles that restrict this movement are very commonly indicated in general neck tightness, neck pain, and tightness due to stress. If you're unable to pass this test, try the corrections below.

Once you finish this stretch, repeat the self-assessment. Like I said with the first self-assessment, doing this once may not immediately enable you to pass the test - but if you work on these stretches for at least 2 weeks, you should see great improvement on this test!

So there it is. That's my first entry for this new blog series entitled "Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!" Make sure you stay tuned to future blogs for the next part in this series. The things you'll learn will allow you to take control of how your body moves and help you to eliminate pain yourself!

SPECIAL OFFER!

"Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself" Course - Available here on my Website under "Courses" Tab

In collaboration with Zac King, I have an extended online course of the same name for anyone who is interested. This course has many self-assessments for the rest of the body and self-corrections to help improve any areas that are problematic. We're offering a special promotion for anyone who would like to sign up for the course and get $10 off! --- That makes the Entire Course only $29.99!

Get signed up today if you want to take control of your movement and eliminate pain on your own! Click the following link to sign up today: https://movlabtulsa.com/courses/

And don't forget - if you run into any issues, or if your neck isn't responding as you wish, MovLab is here to help at any point in your neck rehab work - Mobility is our specialty! Just call us at 918.300.4084 to schedule your next appointment - you'll be glad you did!

I often have patients who come to see me for neck pain. I will do some manual therapy on their neck muscles and adjust some of the joints in their neck -- and they walk out feeling amazing! Then I'll see them a few days later -- and their neck has tightened back up again.

Patients often ask me, "Why is my neck always tight?" I tell them that one of the major contributors to chronic neck pain and tightness is poor breathing mechanics. At this point, they normally look at me like I have two heads. They may say, "Well, I'm alive -- so how can I be breathing wrong?"

In this blog, I'm going to cover how poor breathing mechanics contribute to neck pain and what to do to fix it. (add in a separator line here to note the Blog beginning)

The Body's Ability to Adapt - Good AND Bad

Our bodies are pretty amazing. One thing that makes our body so amazing is its ability to adapt. Without this ability, when we sprained our ankles, we would be confined to a wheelchair. Instead--our body figures out a way to walk without putting weight on our injured ankle - what we would call a limp.

But sometimes this ability to adapt can lead to problems. Imagine if you sprained your ankle when you were 12 -- and your body decided to limp for the rest of your life. Eventually, the changes your body made to not put weight on your injured ankle would start to overload the other areas of your body and possibly lead to pain and injury.

The same thing can happen when we change our breathing mechanics. The primary muscle that's supposed to be used for breathing is the diaphragm. The diaphragm sits at the bottom of our rib cage and is shaped like an upside-down bowl. When the diaphragm contracts, it drops down and creates negative pressure in the chest. That makes us suck air in through our mouth and nose and fills our lungs with precious oxygen.

Even though the diaphragm is our body's primary muscle for breathing, we also have lots of other muscles that are called secondary (or accessory) muscles of breathing. These muscles are supposed to be called upon only in times of great oxygen demand. After vigorous exercise, these secondary muscles help to increase the amount of oxygen coming into the lungs to help us recover from the exertion.

Problems occur when people start to use these secondary muscles of breathing all the time. These muscles are only designed to assist in breathing occasionally, and are not to be used 24/7 while we breathe in and out all day long. These muscles are much smaller than the diaphragm and can fatigue much more easily than the diaphragm.

If you look at the picture above, you'll see that it shows these secondary muscles of breathing. Many of them are around our chest and neck. Breathing mechanics that overuse these muscles can lead to tightness and soreness in these areas. The average human breathes 20,000 times a day. So if you use these muscles to breathe all the time, they get a 20,000 rep workout every day. Imagine what your biceps would feel like if you did 20,000 bicep curls every day! They'd probably be pretty sore and tight.

When we primarily use our secondary muscles of breathing, that's called a chest-breathing pattern. Instead of using the diaphragm to drop down and create negative pressure in the chest, we elevate our rib cage to create that negative pressure in the chest. This pattern not only leads to the tightness that I was talking about; it is also a less-efficient breathing pattern that leads to less oxygen entering our lungs.

Why do Most of us Breathe from our Chest, Not our Diaphragm?

So why does this happen in the first place? There are a lot of answers for this.

For many of us, one big reason is simply our culture. When we breathe with our diaphragm, the diaphragm drops down and creates that negative pressure in the lungs -- but what it also does is that it increases the pressure in our belly -- which makes our belly expand.

If you think of every article you've ever read about losing weight, how to dress attractively, or every depiction of an attractive person in our media, you'll be quickly able to note that an expanded belly is never a part of any of those messages about how to look great. From a very young age, we have modeled for us that we must always suck in our bellies -- to appear skinny. This is a very strong cultural message, and in my opinion, is one of the primary underlying reasons for these chest-breathing strategies.

What can we do to change this Breathing Pattern and Start Using our Diaphragm to Breathe?

So now that we know what the problem is, how do we fix it?

FIND Your Diaphragm
The first thing we have to do is get in touch with our diaphragm muscle. Let me give you a great exercise that will help you do just that.

After learning how to feel your diaphragm, you want to go right into learning how to use it to breathe.

Use Your Diaphragm to BREATHE

  1. For this, stay in the position that you're in and put one hand on your upper chest and one hand just below your belly button.
  2. In this position start to take some breaths. Pay attention to the movement of your hands. Start to notice which hand moves first. Notice which hand moves the most. Ideally -- the hand below your belly button will be the first one to move and will move the most.
  3. If that's not the case with you, then start to work to change that. With each new breath, try to shift your breath lower in your body. When you inhale, try to fill and expand the area just below your belly button with air. Also try not to let your chest rise towards your chin.
  4. I usually recommend for my patients to set a timer for 5 minutes and work on this once a day.

Lying on your back is the easiest position to use as you first start to practice proper breathing mechanics; that's because it allows most of your muscles to relax since you're not having to resist gravity. But that's not usually a position that we're in much of our day -- so it's important that we also learn to do this same type of breathing in other positions.

  1. After you've practiced your breathing for 2 to 3 weeks on your back, you'll move on to this next step. For this exercise, get on your hands and knees like you're getting ready to crawl.
  2. Take one hand off the ground and place it just below your belly button. Try to maintain a straight spine. Now breathe slowly. You want to feel the hand below your belly button slowly pushing towards the ground as you exhale.
  3. Set a timer for 3 minutes and work on trying to move your breath down to the hand below the belly button and fill this area with each breath.
  4. The final step is to work on keeping these same breathing mechanics functioning in a more difficult position like sitting or standing. The principles for this exercise are the same.
  5. Either sit or stand and place one hand just below your belly button.
  6. Set a timer for 3 minutes and slowly try to shift your breathing down to the hand below your belly button. Pay attention to your shoulders. You should not feel your shoulders raising towards your ears. If you notice this, work on letting your shoulders relax and focus on feeling your belly expand with each breath -- instead of lifting your shoulders in order to breathe.

If you take the time to work on each of these exercises for two to three weeks, and then move on to the next one listed, I promise you that you'll begin to notice less tension in your neck and chest.

Why not spend 3-10 minutes a day doing this Breathwork to give your neck and chest muscles a new possibility of Relaxing while your diaphragm does the work it was designed to do? You won't regret it!

If you need more help with your neck pain or any other pain, Movement Laboratory is here to help! Give us a call at 918-300-4084 and schedule your appointment today. During the month of November, we are having a special for a free exam on your New Patient visit. That's an $85 value! Don't let pain interfere with your Holidays, come see us today!

Dr. John H. Keefe IV

So you're killing it in the gym! Maybe you found a great CrossFit gym, or you are weightlifiting on your own. You are consistently hitting 2-5 workout days each week. You make sure to have rest days to allow your muscles to recover. Now you're ready to start increasing your weights. But, how? Increase reps, increase sets, go heavier?! There are so many options.

I recommend letting your goals show you the way. Your goals can dictate the path that's best for you:

Most training programs involve performing the bulk of your exercises in that 8–12 rep sweet spot for a few reasons.

When trying to find your starting weight, follow this program.

Using this method, you will be able to find your ideal starting weight! This will allow you to “build a base,” perfect your form, and gain confidence for weight increases to come.

How to know when you’re ready for a weight increase

Be aware of newbie gains! When you first start strength training, you’ll likely notice a more dramatic increase in strength than you will at any other point in your strength-training journey. That’s largely because during the first couple of weeks of any strength program, the bulk of your strength gains don’t come from putting on actual muscle. Those early strength gains are due to a combination of neurological changes—basically, your brain and muscles learning to work efficiently together so that the muscle cells fire and contract with more force.

What’s more, each person has a different upper limit to how much strength their bodies can gain.

So no matter what your training experience is, knowing when you’re ready to increase weight is as simple as counting reps and watching form. If you are finishing your sets and feel like you could have done 3-4 more reps with no problem, it's probably time to start thinking about an increase.

If you are ready to increase, then your goals will again tell you how.

One important note: If you feel like you are ready to make weight increases with deadlifts and squats before you’re ready to make weight increases with triceps extensions or biceps curls, don’t worry. That’s natural. Many people tend to be stronger on lower-body exercises, at least initially. You will likely see faster weight increases with compound, multi-joint lifts such as squats, bench presses, rows, and deadlifts than with single-joint isolation ones such as leg extensions, triceps extensions, and hamstring curls.

How to lift heavier weights safely

It’s best to look at weight increases in terms of a percentage of the weight you’ve been lifting. For example, going from 5 to 10 pounds with shoulder raises might be the same jump in poundage as going from 100 to 105 pounds with deadlifts, but one requires doubling the weight while the other accounts for a 5 percent increase in weight. Generally, you should limit week-to-week weight increases for any given lift to no more than 10 percent.

Sometimes the weights available to you might mean you have to make a larger increase if you want to increase at all. In that case, always listen to your body, pay attention to your form, and cut your reps accordingly so that you can get through them all without breaking form.

In fact, it’s totally normal to start using a heavier weight and then not be able to quite hit the top of your rep scheme at first. In a few weeks, you will be able to, and then you can up your weights again. For example, if you were doing 3 sets of 12 reps of overhead presses, you may only be able to handle 3 sets of 10 reps when you bump up the weight. If you’re still in that 8–12 rep range, that’s totally fine, and in time you’ll be back to feeling like 12 reps is easy and you'll be ready to once again increase the intensity.

How to know if you're lifting too heavy

Lifting more weight can be awesome, but lifting too much increased weight comes with some unwelcome side effects. The big one is delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Each time you increase the amount of stress you put on a muscle, more microscopic damage occurs within the muscle cells, leading to an uptick in pain during the 24 to 72 hours following your workout as the muscle repairs itself. However, just because DOMS hurts - that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. It’s a normal part of your body recovering from the stress of lifting.

Also, beware of the dangers of our human ego. It can be tempting to get so caught up in moving more weight that you start to break down in your form. Never sacrifice form to lift more weight. This is the quickest path to injury.

So there you have it. Follow these rules to safely increase those gains:

"I've made a huge mistake!"

We're living in a crazy time right now. Maybe you used to have a solid exercise routine, maybe you haven't been in the gym since Hammerpants were in style. Either way, it's likely the pandemic has gotten in the way of your exercise goals.

Many of us find ourselves wanting to Get Back to our regular exercise routine, or maybe we are just trying to Start an exercise routine for the first time. In both of these situations, it's important to think about scaling our return to exercise.

When you are trying to plan out a return to exercise, I have 3 Main Tips to help you be successful.

1: Start Small

Especially if you used to exercise regularly, this one gets a lot of people. People who used to exercise quite regularly tend to design their workouts for their past selves.

That approach can really sabotage you - as it will usually lead to extreme muscle soreness or even injury. You'll want to give yourself the most opportunity to succeed.

Start small. Set your initial workouts at no more than 45 minutes each and no more than 3 days a week. You don't want to do more than this, so that your body has a chance to acclimate to the new demands.

This leads us to my second point.

2: The 10% Rule

Scientists have studied a lot of athletes of different kinds to see the safest way to increase your workouts. They've looked at runners adding mileage; they've looked at weightlifters increasing their weights; and they also studied other types of athletes who were increasing the difficulty of their workouts.

Whenever you start working out at the gym, your muscles adapt pretty quickly, within a week or two. However, the other soft tissues of the body take longer. Your ligaments and tendons can take 4 to 6 weeks to adapt to increased loads.

Tell yourself to enjoy the process of slowly increasing the capabilities of your body, and forget the quick fixes or fast results. That's not the way our body works. Slow and steady wins the race every time. This takes me to my final tip.

3: Rethink Your Ideas About Cardio

For a long time the general thinking was: If you want to lose weight, you need to do steady-state cardio. Maybe this was running out on the streets, running on a treadmill, doing a stationary bike, etc.

This thinking has been shown to be very untrue. Resistance exercise really has way more benefits than anything that steady-state cardio can offer. If your goal is to get stronger, resistance exercise will get you there. If your goal is to lose weight, high-intensity interval resistance exercise will get you there. If your goal is just maintenance of your abilities, resistance exercise will get you there.

There's nothing wrong if you want to warm up with some running on a treadmill or a stationary bike, but take my advice, and add resistance exercise into your workouts. You'll be glad you did. Some of the benefits include:

So there you have it. These are my recommended steps to make returning to exercise, or starting it for the first time ever, go as smoothly as possible. 

So good luck, you got this! And here's to more success in the gym with fewer injuries!

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