What exercises can someone with cervical disc herniation (c3-c6) do?
November 14, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

After a nightmare MRI experience sometime in 2011 I found out that I have a cervical disc herniation on c3, c4, c5, c6. The pain was so severe that I was unable to move my neck to right side without feeling like I was going to pass out. Now that I've gotten my first coritsone shot and feel alive, I would love to work at gym on strentheting my cervical discs so I can beat this problem and avoid having to marry cortisone shots for the rest of my life. What are some excercise machines and workouts I can safely use to strengthen my neck without damaging it further?

I've tried everything doctors suggested except surgery which I am still hoping to avoid for as long as I am alive.

USA doctors love prescribing Vicodin, Percs, Tramadol, so I was naturally given that. I didn't enjoy it very much because they got me high as balls without actually doing much for the pain. So I trashed them. After that I went for countless massages which helped when it comes to relaxing but not so much with constant pain. My last choice was to try a cortisone shot in my neck which truly helped unlike anything ever before. Granted, I had to go to Europe to get them because here they cost $40 per shot while in USA they are much more expensive.

After this cortisone shot I felt like I've been reborn. The strength I feel is unbelivable and I am finally able to move around and do things like a normal and healthy person. I fully realise these shots are not to be utilized too often which is fine with me since needle going into my neck is quiet possibly the worst feeling in the world so I'm hoping to avoid making this a habit.

My question to this community is what exercises can someone with cervical disc herniation do safely? I was mostly told that I should avoid lifting heavy weights but actually focus more on lifting medium weight with far more repetitions. A lot of the gym trainers I run into don't have much knowledge so I opted to research it further here on MeFi.

I realize swimming is quite possibly the workout I should focus on the most since it works out all the muscles but I am also wondering if there are some specific machines and excercises I should focus on further in hopes of strengtening my cervical disc. Would resistance band workouts offer concrete help? I have no desire to turn into a beefcake or anything, I simply want to beat this issue so I can go back to being able to move my body without feeling like I'm gonna pass out from pain.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated and welcome.

Thank You!
posted by cheero to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You really need to go to a competent Physical Therapist to ask this question -- your doctor should be able to give you a referral. This is something that is way too specific to exactly your problems and abilities to trust to internet strangers -- even highly trained, competent ones -- who don't know the specifics of your case.
posted by brainmouse at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

Exactly what brainmouse said. Don't mess around, see a pro!
posted by clone boulevard at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2013

2nding Physical Therapist. I really, really would not tackle this on your own.
posted by desjardins at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2013

You absolutely should go to a physical therapist who has access to your MRI records and any other scans/xrays/etc.
posted by elizardbits at 8:56 AM on November 14, 2013

As someone who just recently has mostly recovered from a cervical disc herniation, I will echo what has already been said. Go to a PT and let them guide you.

I overdid things as soon as I felt a little bit better and it sent me back a few steps.

It still hurts when I sneeze, cough, or laugh.
posted by bondcliff at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2013

You cannot do this without consultation and a plan from a trained physical therapist (unless you want to injure yourself further). My downstairs neighbor slipped a lumbar disc a few years ago and was in PT and then doing home PT exercises for months - she's a nurse practitioner and would definitely not have gone with a DIY approach.
posted by rtha at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2013

After a nightmare MRI experience sometime in 2011 I found out that I have a cervical disc herniation on c3, c4, c5, c6.

OP, to clarify, are you saying an accident in the MRI caused your herniation? Or that you have records of the herniation from the MRI?
posted by third rail at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2013

Physical Therapist...
posted by bostonhill at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2013

Response by poster: @third rail,

Nightmare MRI experience was to confirm that I have herniated discs that was visible at first from a CT scan. Its was nightmarish because 10 minutes into it I got claustrophobic and had a major buggout over it.

I do have a DVD with all my scans. I've gone to see multiple doctors for it. I just wanted to see what MeFi users with similar experiences had to say.
posted by cheero at 10:06 AM on November 14, 2013

Just to add to the consensus, you absolutely must have a physical therapist to guide you in this.
posted by HotToddy at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2013

I had the surgery. Fusion at three levels. Reason was I never found exercises that could strengthen away my pain and there was atrophy in my arm. But, seconding all the above, the person who helped me the most prior to surgery, not my doctor in this regard, was the PT gal.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:56 AM on November 14, 2013

The problem is we can't see which way your disk is herniated, and the details of your specific anatomy. If it's bulging out the front, you'll need to strengthen different muscles than if it's bulging out the back or the side. And even then, we don't know the level of strength in your muscles currently.

And, you might need to strengthen muscles, or you might need to stretch muscles.

The only way way to know is to see you in person and have you perform some simple movements, like stretching in certain ways, or trying to push/pull/hold up/hold down light weights.

And the only person qualified do this analysis is a physical therapist. (Not a chiropractor)

Please don't mess around when it comes to your spine. One unwarranted chest press or lateral raise and you, literally, could paralyze yourself.

Signed, FrankenSquirrel, owner of a sweet titanium plate holding C6-C7 together...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Herniation at c5 and c6 adding my 2 cents worth. I was offered surgery as an option and had just one cortisone injection, it wasn't a good experience for me. Yes, PT. For me swimming was the salvation. Just remember to rotate your whole body for breaths while doing crawl stroke, minimize twisting your head. Take good long, full arm strokes with your shoulder pointed toward the bottom of the pool.

Do you suffer arm and hand numbness? Have you been seen by a neurologist? Get good sound medical advice. I distrust chiropractic (quackopratic) folks.
posted by X4ster at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2013

You have FOUR cervical herniations and you're asking internet randos what excercises to do? No. No. No. Go ask a physical therapist or sports injury doctor at a rehab clinic. Don't ask us.
posted by windykites at 2:13 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't mess around trying to work out your fucked-up neck based on advice from anyone but a competent physical therapist with access to your records. Even another MeFite who with the best of intentions gives you advice about their own personal experience with a herniated cervical disc could easily inadvertently tell you to do something that would seriously harm you. Necks are complicated, delicate, and critically important (as you've found out the hard way) to health and quality of life. When things go wrong they go wrong in complex and highly individual ways, which is why you had that unpleasant MRI in order to generate a detailed picture of what exactly was wrong with your own personal neck. Nobody is going to be able to give you safe (let alone helpful) advice without access to those photos, to your body, and to and a very technical education that allows them to translate the information into safe and effective physical therapy.

Don't mess with this. Do what literally everyone here is saying and talk to your doctor about a referral for a competent physical therapist who specializes in problems like yours. (Yes, there are PTs who just do necks. That is how complicated and high-risk this is.) Anything else and you risk making an already bad situation much, much worse.
posted by Scientist at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another recommendation to get a professional involved in your rehab. Also, you mention that you think swimming might be a good idea. It's often described as a gentle exercise that evenly exercises all your muscles and is just wonderful, but I would say it's an exercise just like anything else with all the same risks. My husband and I have both caused ourselves injuries (or exacerbated previous injuries/physiological issues) in the pool that required physical therapy. In my case, I was even taking lessons with an instructor at the time but he didn't understand an abnormality in my shoulder was leading a normal (for everybody else) motion to cause me harm.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:09 PM on November 14, 2013

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