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Physical Therapy for Disc Herniation – Information, Exercises, and More

If you have a herniated disc in your neck, then you understand the pain that can sometimes be associated with the condition. It can be unbearable at times.

Pain in your neck and shoulder blade. Pain turning. Pain bending. Muscle spasms …

If you’re searching for relief for your disc herniation, the good news is that you’re not alone and many people have found alleviation with the help of physical therapy and exercise. 

Keep reading and we’ll share with you some of the common:

  • Causes of disc herniation
  • Symptoms of disc herniation
  • Treatment and exercises to help you find relief

What is Disc Herniation?

If you have pain in your neck, shoulder blades, or upper back that you’ve never felt before, it may be a disc herniation (also called a herniated cervical disc).

In fact, it’s a common health problem as you age. You could even have one without any symptoms—just yet.

A disc herniation occurs when a spinal disc weakens and encroaches on the spinal cord.

These discs are rubbery cushions that sit between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack to make your spine.

The top seven vertebrae in your spine are the cervical (or neck) vertebrae. There are also nerves found there that connect to your arms, hands, and upper body.

Depending on where the weakened (sometimes called bulging or slipped) disc is, it can result in pain, numbness, or weakness.

What Causes Disc Herniation?

Disc herniation is most often a result of gradual, aging-related wear and tear. 

As you age, your discs become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing. Even a minor strain or twist can cause a herniated disc.

It’s often difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of the disc herniation. 

Some common causes are:

  • Using back muscles to lift
  • Twisting and turning while lifting
  • Traumatic fall or blow to the area 
  • Having intervertebral disc disease 

But many people simply begin to notice new pain or numbness. 

Disc Herniation – Risk Factors

Aside from age, some factors can put you at greater risk of experiencing a herniated disc. 

The most common are:

  • Weight
    • Excess body weight causes additional stress on your discs.
  • Occupation
    • A physically demanding job with lifting, pulling, bending, twisting can put extra stress on your discs.
  • Genetics
    • You can inherit a predisposition to developing a herniated disc.
  • Smoking 
    • It can lessen the oxygen supply to the disc, causing it to break down more quickly.

Disc Herniation Symptoms

Most herniated discs do occur in the lower back. However, they can also occur in the neck. They usually only affect one side of the body. 

The signs and symptoms depend on where the disc is located and whether it’s pressing on a nerve. 

Most common symptoms include:

  • Arm or leg pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Weakness 

H3: Arm or Leg Pain

If your herniated disc is in your lower back (most common), you’ll probably feel the most pain in your buttocks, thigh, and calf. 

If the disc herniation is in your neck, you’ll feel the pain in your shoulder and arm. 

The pain is often described as sharp or burning.

H3: Numbness or Tingling

If you have a disc herniation, you may have radiating numbness or tingling. 

This is caused by the affected nerves that serve that body part. 


The affected nerves tend to cause weakness to the muscles. 

This can cause you to stumble. It can even affect your ability to lift or hold items. 

Disc Herniation – Diagnosis

If your neck or back pain travels down your arm or legs, or if you have numbness, tingling, or weakness, it might be time to see your doctor. 

The best way to tell if you have a disc herniation is to see your primary doctor. You can expect a physical exam to help find the source of your pain. 

The physical exam is usually the only test needed for a diagnosis. 

Sometimes, a doctor will want to rule out other sources of pain and might do further tests. 

An x-ray can show your doctor the outline of your spine and can help to rule out if the pain is caused by something else—such as a fracture or tumor.

Additional testing could also be done such as:

Treatment – Disc Herniation

Let’s consider Susanne’s case. Susanne was recently diagnosed with cervical (neck) disc herniation. Her doctor told her to take anti-inflammatory medication as needed. 

But he told her that physical therapy and exercises have been proven to help heal the body faster to help her get back on track–fast

After all, she has three grandchildren to keep up with. Susanne’s case wasn’t severe, but it’s important to note that for very severe cases, surgery might be the recommended treatment. Cervical spine surgery involves removing some or all of the disc.

Disc Herniation Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy is the go-to treatment prescribed by most doctors for disc herniation. 

A physical therapist can show you positions and exercises designed to minimize the pain of a herniated disc.

They can teach you which ones strengthen the muscles that support your spine.

Some of the techniques that physical therapists use include:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Massage
  • Ice and heat
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Electrical muscle stimulation

Best Disc Herniation Exercises

There are some exercises that you can perform at home that might help alleviate some of the pain in your neck and shoulders. 

Sit up tall, relax your shoulders, and try these:

  • Lateral bend – Tilt your head to one side (slowly) as if you’re going to touch your ear to your shoulder. 
  • Scalene stretch – Grasp the chair you’re sitting in with your left hand and let your shoulder blade move down. Slowly bend your right ear down toward your right shoulder and slightly backward.
  • Neck rotation – Gently turn your head to the side. Don’t over-rotate your head behind you and avoid twisting your neck. Slowly turn your head to the other side.


Hold each exercise for 30 seconds. Repeat these throughout the day 3-4 times.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Disc Herniation

Since physical therapy is the #1 treatment for most disc herniations, you’ll be happy to know that we’re rated the #1 physical therapist in the entire country. Thanks, Yelp.

We have countless testimonials and case studies to prove our success. We’d love for your disc herniation relief to be added to our brag books. 

Our mission is to bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to you. 

*This information about physical therapy for disc herniation was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Give us a call today for a consultation.

In Motion O.C.