A bulging disc in the neck occurs when a spinal disc weakens and encroaches on the spinal cord. In some cases, this can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, and back. Acute injury to the area can cause a bulging disc in the neck.

Long-term trauma, such as poor posture or being overweight, can also cause a bulging disc in the neck. These structures in the spine tend to weaken over time, so aging can increase the risk of a bulging disc in the neck.

Doing certain exercises or stretches can ease pressure on the spine and reduce symptoms. People can do this with the guidance of a physical therapist or at home.

Taking pain medications can also be helpful for reducing discomfort. If these treatments are not effective, however, surgery is another option. This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and exercises for a bulging disc in the neck.


Woman with Bulging disc in the neck holding neck and shoulder in pain
A weak spinal disc can cause a bulge in the neck.

The spine is made up of several interconnected bones. These are vertebrae, which protect the soft tissues, the spinal cord, and the nerves that run through the spine.

To maintain their flexibility, a connective disc separates each vertebra. These spinal discs are made up of strong elastic tissues.

When the spine bends or rotates, the spinal discs change in size to support the movement and prevent friction between the bones.

It is possible for spinal discs to dislodge. This is most common in the lower spine. However, it can also occur in the upper portion of the spine, and it can cause a bulge into the spinal canal. In more severe cases, it can lead to a herniated disc.

Herniated and bulging are terms that describe the disc. Some people compare a bulging disc to a tire that is going flat, whereas they consider a herniated disc similar to a tire blowout.

Each disc contains a soft inner substance with a surrounding outer layer, which maintains the structure of the disc.

A herniated disc occurs when damage to the outer layer causes the inner substance to leak out of the disc. The causes of bulging or herniated discs include sudden or long-term trauma.

Having poor posture and lifting weights with improper form are examples of what can cause long-term trauma.

Other possible causes include:

Spinal discs weaken over time and become more vulnerable to injury. This means that aging increases the risk of a bulging or herniated disc. It depends on what begins to degenerate first.

If the nucleus pulposus, or the inner soft tissue, starts to degenerates first, a disc may have no problem.

However, if the annulus fibrosis, which is the outer supporting layer, starts to degenerate first, the inner nucleus pulposus may escape into the vertebral canal and press on a nerve root or the spinal cord.


It is possible for a bulging disc to occur without any symptoms. In other cases, however, the disc presses on a nerve in the neck. This can cause:

  • pain in the neck, shoulders, and back
  • pain when moving
  • numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms, or fingers
  • a reduced range of motion

The severity of the symptoms will depend on how much pressure there is on the nerve. The symptoms often worsen during activity and improve when resting.


Man stretching neck in gym preparing for exercise.
Gentle stretches may help treat a bulging disc in the neck.

Alongside medication and other pain management techniques, doctors may prescribe some exercises. A person can practice these with a physical therapist or in their own home.

Exercises for a bulging disc in the neck tend to involve a mix of gentle stretches and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Stretching the neck can help relieve pain and pressure in the area. Neck stretches usually involve slowly moving the head backward, forward, or from side to side.

Practicing exercises that strengthen the neck muscles is a longer-lasting method of easing pressure on the neck. It may also help strengthen other muscles that support the spine, such as the abdominal muscles.

A physical therapist will also help improve posture and form when lifting objects and walking. This may include ensuring that the back is straight when bending the knees to lift an object from the ground. This will help reduce the risk of another injury occurring in the future.

Other treatments

It might be best to include other forms of treatment with physical therapy and exercises. This can assist recovery.

Taking certain pain relief medication can also be helpful for reducing discomfort in the neck, shoulders, arms, and back. These are typically over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics.

In more serious cases, treatment could involve receiving steroidal injections to reduce pain and inflammation.

The most serious cases can require cervical spine surgery. This will involve removing some or all of the disc. It may be necessary to insert a cervical plate or screen to help stabilize the spine after surgery.


A bulging disc in the neck can occur when a spinal disc slips out of place. This can lead to a herniated disc, wherein damage causes the inner substance of the disc to leak out. Both conditions can cause pain in the neck.

Physical therapy and exercises can help treat a bulging disc in the neck. This will include a mixture of gentle neck stretches and exercises to strengthen the neck and surrounding muscles.

A range of other treatments, such as pain medication and surgery, are also available.