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Spine and Back Health

Upper Back Pain

03/23/2009

Question:

How likely is it that a bulging cervical disc will herniate? Can a bulging disc become nonbulging again? I do physical therapy excercises for the neck. Is there anything else I can do to prevent herniation?

Answer:

Hello, thank you for your question. Unfortunately, no one really knows the answer to your first question. It depends greatly on a very large number of factors that vary from individual to individual. Do you smoke? Are you overweight? Do you do athletics? Is your job physically demanding? How old are you? Do you have a family history of spine problems? Etc. etc. This is only a partial list of factors involved, so no one knows.

For your second question, yes, bulging discs can frequently become non-bulging, even from day to day, as well as long-term, but again, it's hard to know whether that is likely to happen for any given individual. Preventing herniation is another tough one. As a general rule, stopping smoking, losing weight, and avoiding highly physically demanding work and/or 'chronic repetitive stress' movements (for example, mountain biking, off-roading, ATVs, anything that causes a sort of 'jackhammer' effect on the spine) are the best you can do, and even if you do all of that you may not be able to eliminate this risk. I hope this helps somewhat, and wish you good luck and good health.

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Response by:

David J Hart, MD David J Hart, MD
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University