Medical News Today: Can scientists learn to remove bad memories?

Traumatic memories can severely affect a person’s quality of life when they become intrusive thoughts that lead to anxiety and continue to cause distress. For this reason, scientists are now looking into ways of weakening such memories and lessening their impact.
photo of person turning away on dark background
Is it possible to ‘treat’ traumatic memories?

People who experience traumatic events may find their memories haunt them for a long time after the experience occurred.

Exposure to trauma can trigger numerous mental and emotional problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders, for example, phobias.

Ways of treating people who experience the long-term effects of trauma can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other types of psychotherapy, as well as specific drug prescriptions to address symptoms of depression or anxiety.

However, increasingly, researchers are exploring ways of acting on the traumatic memories that cause an individual’s long-term distress.

Such is the case with a team of scientists from five research institutions across three countries: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Reina Sofia–CIEN Foundation in Madrid, Spain, New York University, and the Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

These researchers have been looking into a novel way of weakening people’s distressing memories and reducing their psychological impact.

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Can we manipulate ‘established’ memories?

In a new study paper that appears in the journal Science Advances and whose first author is Ana Galarza Vallejo, the researchers write that “[a]n effective treatment for these disorders [related to trauma] should selectively decrease these intrusive, pathological memories.”

At the same time, they note that the prevailing opinion in memory research has been that “established memories are relatively fixed” and, thus, cannot be easily modified. Yet, in their new study, the investigators show that acting on disturbing memories is, in fact, a clear possibility.

“[M]emories are initially labile and sensitive to interference by, e.g., electroconvulsive therapy, general anesthesia, or protein synthesis inhibition, but stabilize over time during a period of consolidation, after which memories were considered to be established and no longer sensitive to disruption or modification,” the authors write.

However, the scientists observe that past research that researchers conducted using animal models suggested that reactivating an already established memory can, for a short time, make it “vulnerable” to external modifications.

Building on this existing evidence, they decided to work with a group of human participants, and test an intervention they based on administering the anesthetic propofol.

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Well-timed sedative acts on bad memories

In the current study, Vallejo and colleagues recruited 50 healthy participants, in whom they first instilled unwanted memories by asking them to watch two narrated slideshows. Both of these slideshows featured negative emotional content about midway through.

To reactive the bad memories, the researchers called the participants back after 1 week, and showed them the first slide from one of the two presentations, asking them targeted questions.

Once the participants started recalling the unwanted memories, the investigators sedated them with propofol, the anesthetic whose potential in memory-manipulation the team wanted to assess.

Then, the researchers assigned the participants to one of two groups. Following on 24 hours after the propofol injection, the people in the first groups had to take a test evaluating their recall of the stories in each of the two slideshows — both the one which they had had to remember before sedation and the one which they were not prompted to recall.

As for the participants in the second group, they took the same tests immediately after having received the propofol intervention.

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The investigators found that 24 hours after its administration, propofol had effectively disrupted the reconsolidation of the bad memory that researchers had asked participants to recall.

Thus, while the individuals in the first group were still able to remember the negative memory they associated with the slideshow that they had not recalled before the sedation, their memory of the reactivated story was weaker.

Following these findings, Vallejo and team believe that they may have found a “relatively noninvasive” way of dimming traumatic memories and reducing their psychological impact.

“However,” the researchers warn, “there is also evidence that altering parameters of the reactivation session, such as increasing duration, can destabilize remote memories,” which would be an unwanted effect.

The scientists advise that it may be useful, going forward, to monitor participants’ brain activity as they receive the treatment to assess what the best dosage might be. They conclude:

The administration of propofol with simultaneous recording of the electroencephalogram may provide useful markers of the depth of sedation and loss of consciousness potentially predictive of efficacy of reconsolidation impairment across patients.”

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Medical News Today: Could prescription vegetables be the future of healthcare?

The authors of a new study conclude that healthful food prescriptions in Medicare and Medicaid would be more cost-effective after 5 years than preventive drug treatments.
Father and daughter shopping
As the cost of healthcare rises, could prescription vegetables save money?

Medicare and Medicaid are the two largest healthcare programs in the United States.

Approximately 57 million people received coverage from Medicare plans in 2016, while Medicaid had about 66 million enrollees in 2018.

Medicare is the federal health insurance program that supports certain groups of people, including those who are 65 years or older, those with permanent kidney failure, and some younger people with disabilities.

Medicaid is a federal and state program that helps people who have limited income and resources.

Medicare accounted for 15 percent of the federal budget in 2017. As the population ages and healthcare costs rise, experts estimate that healthcare spending will continue to grow. According to projections, Medicare spending will reach 18 percent by 2028.

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Encouraging people to eat better

A team of researchers from Tufts University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA analyzed the effects of healthful food prescriptions in Medicare and Medicaid. The study, which the journal PLOS Medicine published, found that offsetting the cost of healthful foods by 30 percent through health insurance would improve health and reduce costs.

According to the co-first author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts:

“Medicare and Medicaid are the two largest healthcare programs in the U.S., together covering one in three Americans and accounting for 1 in every 4 dollars in the entire federal budget.”

The researchers modeled two different scenarios that would play out if Medicare and Medicaid covered 30 percent of healthful food purchases.

In both scenarios, these programs would cover 30 percent of fruit and vegetable purchases. However, in the second scenario, they would also cover 30 percent of purchases of whole grains, nuts, seafood, and plant oils.

The findings showed that the first scenario would prevent about 1.93 million cases of heart disease, while the second one would prevent close to 3.28 million cases of heart disease as well as 120,000 cases of diabetes.

The positive effect on diabetes is due to the role that whole grains, nuts, and seeds play in diabetes prevention.

“We found that encouraging people to eat healthy foods in Medicare and Medicaid — healthy food prescriptions — could be as or more cost-effective as other common interventions, such as preventative drug treatments for hypertension or high cholesterol,” says Yujin Lee, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School and co-first author of the study.

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Reducing the need for healthcare

Both scenario one and scenario two significantly reduced healthcare utilization, leading to savings of about $40 billion and $100 billion respectively. The total costs for subsidizing just fruits and vegetables were $122.6 billion, while it cost $210.4 billion to cover the broader range of healthful foods.

Comparing the net costs with savings and health benefits, both scenarios were highly cost-effective.

To conduct this study, the researchers used a validated micro-simulation model called CVD Predict that generated samples representative of the Medicare, Medicaid, and dual-eligible populations. To achieve this, they used data from recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), published sources, and meta-analyses.

They then applied the two scenarios to each of the different samples and assessed their effect at 5-, 10-, and 20-year horizons and at a simulated lifetime horizon.

This research forms part of the Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness (Food-PRICE) research initiative, which is a collaboration of international researchers who are working to improve the health of the U.S. population by identifying possible nutrition strategies and evaluating their cost-effectiveness.

These new findings support the concept of [the public initiative] Food is Medicine: That innovative programs to encourage and reimburse healthy eating can and should be integrated into the healthcare system.”

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian

The researchers believe that this study provides the best national assessment of the potential effects that these initiatives could have at the federal level, but they caution that these models cannot prove the health and cost effects of the incentives.

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Medical News Today: What is the difference between a cyst and a boil?

Cysts and boils both cause lumps to form under the skin. They are often similar in appearance, but their causes and treatment are not the same.

In this article, we provide an overview of cysts and boils, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment. We also explain how a person can tell the difference between the two.

What are cysts and boils?

Dermatologist inspecting patients skin
A doctor can determine whether a lump under the skin is a cyst or boil.

A cyst is a small fluid-filled lump that can form in or on a person’s body. It can be easy to confuse a cyst with a boil as they may have similar symptoms.

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), there are three types of common skin cyst:

  • epidermal cysts
  • trichilemmal cysts
  • milia

Epidermal and trichilemmal cysts look very similar to each other, but the latter mostly occur on a person’s scalp. Milia cysts are smaller and tend to occur more on the face, especially around the eyes.

Cysts are usually benign, which means that they are noncancerous.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, bacterial infections are responsible for causing boils, which are pus-filled lumps under the skin that form around hair follicles.

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How to identify them

Skin cysts and boils can present in a similar way, but they are not the same.

According to the AOCD, a person can move an epidermal cyst under their skin. Skin usually covers the cyst, but it may sometimes have a central pore. Cysts range in size from 0.5 to several centimeters.

A person will not usually notice any symptoms alongside their cyst. However, if the cyst ruptures or gets infected, it may become red, swollen, and painful, closely resembling a boil.

Boils are similar to large, painful pimples, and they can be a little larger than cysts. In most cases, they appear red and swollen, and they contain yellow pus.

A person is most likely to get boils on their face or neck, but they can also appear:

  • in the armpits
  • around the groin, including the genitals
  • on the thighs
  • on the bottom

Differences in symptoms, causes, and treatments

Despite their similar appearance, there are important differences between cysts and boils.


If a person has a cyst without inflammation, they may not experience any associated symptoms, but if the cyst does become inflamed, it may be red, swollen, and painful.

A cyst can rupture on sudden exposure to pressure, for example, if a person falls on it. If it does burst, a person may notice yellow, unpleasant-smelling pus.

It is not clear exactly why people get cysts, but they form when skin cells quickly multiply.

Gardner’s syndrome and Gorlin’s syndrome can cause a person to develop cysts. These lumps may also have an association with sun damage to a person’s skin, and some medications might increase the likelihood of a cyst forming.

Cysts can also appear after a person sustains damage to their skin, although the underlying cause is often not clear.

Treatment for a cyst usually involves minor surgery to remove it. A doctor will give the individual a local anesthetic before removing the whole of the cyst, making as small an incision as possible to try to prevent scarring.

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Woman applying warm wet compress to skin on back of hand
Applying a damp, warm cloth to a boil may help it heal.

Unlike most cysts, boils are swollen, red, and sore. People may see yellow pus in or on the boil. A boil may make a person feel weak or tired if they develop a fever because of the bacterial infection.

Boils usually occur as a result of bacterial infection around a hair follicle. This infection causes the surrounding skin cells to die, and pus then replaces them. Sometimes, several boils will develop in a cluster, which is called a carbuncle.

If a person has other skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, they may be more likely to develop a boil because their skin is more susceptible to bacterial infection.

Although bacteria are the underlying cause of boils, antibiotics are not usually the first treatment for a boil unless it is severe or many boils have formed.

People can often treat boils at home. The American Academy of Dermatology recommend applying a warm, damp, clean cloth to the boil. Doing this encourages the boil to release its pus, which helps it heal. Ibuprofen, available over the counter or online, can help relieve pain and inflammation.

A person should not squeeze a boil as this may worsen the infection.

If a boil is severe or persistent, a doctor might take a sample of the pus in the boil and send it to a laboratory to determine which bacterial infection has caused it. When they know which bacteria are responsible, the doctor can prescribe the most effective antibiotic to fight the infection.

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Although cysts and boils may look similar, especially if a cyst becomes inflamed, there are important differences between them.

Cysts are not generally painful, but most boils are sore. Boils tend to be a little larger than cysts and appear red and swollen. Doctors can treat cysts with minor surgery, whereas people can usually treat a boil at home.

In either case, if a person’s cyst or boil causes any unusual symptoms or does not resolve, a medical professional can provide advice.

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Medical News Today: Can home remedies help regulate your period?

Irregular periods are when menstrual bleeding is unpredictable or happens more or less often than it does for the average person.

Scientific research has shown that people can help regulate an irregular menstrual cycle with home remedies and lifestyle changes, such as altering their diet and exercise regimens.

People can also try other natural remedies, such as eating turmeric or pineapple, though there is no scientific evidence that these methods work.

This article explores which home remedies can help regular irregular periods, which ones have no evidence to back them up, and how to use them.

What are irregular periods?

A menstrual cycle is the number of days between the first day of each period. On average, this is 28 days. Some people have a longer menstrual cycle, and others have a shorter one. A typical range is between 21 and 35 days.

Irregular periods are when periods happen more or less often than every 21 to 35 days, or when a period is very variable or unpredictable. When a person has irregular periods, the time between each period may vary each month.

The following sections discuss six home remedies and lifestyle changes that evidence suggests can improve irregular periods.

1. Reduce stress

Woman sat on her bed meditating which may help with irregular periods
A person can help regulate their menstrual cycle by reducing stress.

Researchers suggest that high levels of emotional stress have links to irregular periods.

Finding ways to reduce stress may help a person regulate their menstrual cycle. Avoiding stressful situations and managing family or workplace expectations may help.

When it is not possible to avoid stress, try doing activities that limit the impact it has on the body.

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2. Meditate

Meditation is a simple and free way to reduce stress at home or work. As stress and irregular periods are linked, reducing stress may make periods more regular.

Researchers suggest that meditation may improve multiple adverse effects of psychological stress. To try meditation:

  • find a quiet place to sit
  • sit up straight, with arms relaxed and hands on knees
  • breath in and out deeply
  • focus on the sound of the breath
  • listen in to other surrounding sounds
  • acknowledge thoughts as they occur but then let them go

At first, try meditating for just a few minutes and increase the time by a minute each day.

3. Practice yoga

Yoga is a physical form of meditation that most people can try at home. Many people across the world use this ancient practice daily to improve their well-being.

Practicing yoga may be an effective way to regulate periods. A small-scale 2013 study found that a daily yoga practice helped to balance hormones linked with irregular periods.

Yoga with Adriene offers simple yoga videos that are suitable for beginners.

4. Lose or gain weight

Changes in body weight can affect a person’s menstrual cycle.

Having a low body weight may mean a person’s periods become irregular or even stop. The body needs some fat to produce the hormones of the menstrual cycle, so gaining weight may help regulate their periods.

Similarly, having obesity or being overweight may cause menstrual irregularities. Losing weight may make a person’s periods more regular.

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for reproductive health. Eating a healthful, calorie-controlled diet and exercising regularly may help a person manage their weight.

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5 Adjust exercise levels

woman using bcaas supplement running on racing track
Although regular exercise offers many health benefits, doing too much can interrupt the menstrual cycle.

Exercise is vital for a person’s mental and physical health. Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise may improve menstrual cramps.

Exercise is an effective way to maintain a healthy weight. Because being overweight can cause irregular periods, reducing weight may make periods more regular.

However, when it comes to exercise and periods, balance is important. Exercising too much may interrupt the menstrual cycle. Extreme exercise may even cause a person’s periods to stop.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults do at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or half this amount of vigorous-intensity activity every week.

6. Top up on vitamin D

Vitamin D aids calcium absorption in the gut, which is essential for healthy bones.

Research shows that vitamin D may also help regulate ovulation. A 2015 study found links between low levels of vitamin D and irregular periods.

Irregular periods are a common symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). A small-scale 2014 clinical trial suggests that taking supplements of vitamin D and calcium, alongside metformin, may help regulate periods for people with PCOS.

Sunlight causes a person’s body to produce vitamin D. So to top up on vitamin D, spend time outside in the sunshine.

People can also get vitamin D from fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna. Some manufacturers add vitamin D to fortified plant milk and cereals. Taking supplements is another way to make sure the body gets enough vitamin D.

Other ideas

Some scientific evidence backs up the six ideas in the section above. Although the home remedies in the following section have less research to back them up, some people may find them helpful.

Apple cider vinegar

Initial research suggests that drinking apple cider vinegar may regulate ovulation for people with PCOS. Scientists need to carry out more research to prove this benefit, however. The study in question had only seven participants, making it too small to be conclusive.


Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which may reduce inflammation. Some causes of irregular menstruation involve inflammation.

Some people believe that eating pineapple may help regulate periods, though research has not found a link between the two. Researchers need to carry out more studies to see if pineapple can improve irregular periods.

Pineapple juice, like other fruit juices, is high in sugar and not a good choice for people with diabetes.


Turmeric is a popular home remedy for a range of health conditions, including irregular periods. However, its ability to regulate periods is unproven.

The main benefit of turmeric that scientists have found is its ability to reduce inflammation. Research suggests that curcumin, an active ingredient found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory effects.

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Irregular periods have many causes. Making lifestyle changes to reduce or manage stress and maintain a healthy body weight may help regulate periods.

Meditation and yoga are effective stress management methods. Regular exercise and a healthful diet can help people manage their weight. Getting enough vitamin D may also support a healthy menstrual cycle.

Eating turmeric or pineapple and drinking apple cider vinegar are other possible home remedies, but more research is needed before doctors can recommend them as effective treatments.

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Medical News Today: What causes pain in the testicles?

Testicular pain can have several causes, from infections to traumatic injuries. Sometimes, testicular pain can be a medical emergency.

In this article, learn about the possible causes of testicular pain, as well as when to see a doctor.


Patient at doctor's explaining testicle pain
An infection such as epididymitis can cause testicular pain.

Epididymitis is an infection of the epididymis, which is the organ where the sperm mature before exiting the body.

Symptoms of epididymitis can include:

  • pain that gradually increases
  • a scrotum that feels hot to the touch
  • swelling

Sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause epididymitis. Urinary tract infections can also lead to epididymitis.

Doctors usually treat the condition with antibiotics.


Hernias occur when tissue pushes through a weak part of the abdominal muscles. An inguinal hernia is one type of hernia that can push into the scrotum, causing testicular pain and swelling.

Doctors may be able to reduce or push an inguinal hernia back into place. If this is ineffective, they can correct the hernia with surgery.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones can cause pain that radiates to the testicles. Doctors call this referred pain, where the pain occurs beyond the area that is causing the problem.

Other symptoms that doctors may associate with kidney stones include:

  • blood-tinged urine
  • burning when urinating
  • nausea
  • pain at the top of the penis
  • sharp, cramping pain that may radiate from the back to the groin
  • urinating frequently
  • vomiting

Doctors may advise waiting for the kidney stones to pass. However, if a stone has not passed after some time or a person starts to experience symptoms of an infection, such as a fever or discharge, they should seek treatment as soon as possible.

Treatments can include surgery to remove the stone or shock-wave lithotripsy, which delivers shock waves to break up the stones.

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A fatigue and fever are potential symptoms of orchitis.
Fatigue and fever are potential symptoms of orchitis.

Orchitis is an infection and inflammation of the testicle. Untreated epididymitis can lead to orchitis.

Symptoms of orchitis can include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • nausea
  • testicular pain
  • swelling in one or both testicles
  • vomiting

People should seek immediate treatment for orchitis. Sometimes the pain can be so severe that it is similar to testicular torsion, which is a medical emergency.

Treatments for orchitis depend upon the underlying cause. A doctor can prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections. When a virus causes orchitis, they can recommend supportive treatments, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, rest, and elevating the scrotum.

Testicular torsion

Testicular torsion is a serious medical condition that occurs when the testicle twists around the spermatic cord. The spermatic cord carries sperm from the testicles to the urethra.

Typically, testicular torsion is a condition that is more common in young men, usually those under age 25 years.

Symptoms that doctors associate with testicular torsion include:

  • nausea
  • redness or darkening of the scrotum
  • sudden, severe pain that occurs on one side of the scrotum
  • swelling in the scrotum
  • vomiting

The pain from testicular torsion is not always sudden. Some people with this condition experience pain that slowly worsens over several days.

According to the American Urological Association, testicular torsion typically occurs on the left side more than the right.

Treatment involves surgery to correct the testicular twisting. In rare cases, if a surgeon cannot repair the torsion, they may remove the testicle.

Usually, testicular torsion only affects one testicle, so removing it does not affect a person’s fertility.

Testicular tumor

A testicular tumor can cause pain and swelling in the testicular area. Other symptoms may include:

  • a dull ache in the groin
  • a lump in the testicle
  • testicular swelling

Symptoms of a testicular tumor can resemble several other conditions that affect males, such as inguinal hernias and epididymitis. A doctor can help diagnose the tumor or other underlying condition.


A blow to the testicles can cause bruising, pain, and swelling. A testicle can also rupture or develop a hematocele. A hematocele occurs when blood pools around the testicle and presses on it, affecting blood flow.

If a person has experienced a blow to the testicles and is experiencing pain and swelling, it is best to seek urgent medical attention.

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Man tying sports shoes trainers onto feet
Varcioceles may cause more pain during physical activity.

Varicoceles are abnormally large or twisted veins in the testicles. Sometimes, varicoceles do not cause any symptoms.

When they do, a person may notice testicular pain that gets worse with physical activity or over the day. Varicoceles may also affect a person’s fertility.

Doctors do not know what causes varicoceles, but they can usually treat them with surgery.

When to see a doctor

It is best to see a doctor if any of the following symptoms accompany testicular pain:

  • discoloration of the testicles
  • nausea
  • unusual, bloody or cloudy discharge from the penis
  • testicular swelling
  • vomiting
  • pain that gets worse over time

Anyone with symptoms of testicular torsion should seek emergency medical attention. Without treatment, any condition that affects blood flow could result in loss of the testicle or surrounding parts.


If a person experiences swelling or pain in one or both testicles, it is best to see a doctor. If the pain is causing nausea and vomiting, they should seek immediate medical attention.

In cases of testicular torsion, the sooner a person seeks help, the more likely they can receive prompt attention to restore blood flow.

Medical treatments are available for most causes of testicular pain.

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Medical News Today: How to get rid of tonsil stones

The tonsils are located in the back of the throat and serve as part of the body’s lymphatic and immune systems. Tonsil stones are small stones that form there. They can cause infection and symptoms such as bad breath.

Ideally, the tonsils capture and catch bacteria before they can go deeper into a person’s oral cavity.

However, the tonsils have small folds, in which bacteria and food can collect to form small, stone-like substances that doctors call tonsil stones or tonsilloliths.

In addition to bad breath, these stones can cause a sore throat, painful swallowing, hoarseness, and inflamed, red tonsils.

In this article, learn how to get rid of tonsil stones at home, as well as when to see a doctor.

1. Low-pressure irrigator

A woman leans over the link using a low-pressure water irrigator as a home remedy for tonsil stones.
The regular use of a water irrigator can help prevent tonsil stones from developing.

Using a low-pressure water irrigator, such as a water flosser, can help loosen tonsil stones.

To do this, stand in front of a well-lit mirror and aim the water flosser toward the tonsil stones.

Be careful when freeing a tonsil stone, as it can fall toward the back of the throat and cause coughing. Do not try this on children, who could choke.

A person can also use a water flosser to regularly irrigate the tonsils and prevent tonsil stones from forming.

Irrigators are available for purchase online.

2. Cotton swabs

Some people use cotton swabs to sweep tonsil stones from the back of the throat.

Slightly dampen the swab, insert it toward the back of the throat, and sweep the stones away. Avoid touching the middle portion of the throat, as this can trigger the gag reflex.

Because a lot of blood vessels surround the tonsils, it is essential to try only a few sweeps with the cotton swab. If bleeding occurs, stop using the swab.

3. Nonalcoholic mouthwash

Gently swishing a nonalcoholic mouthwash around the mouth can help loosen tonsil stones and reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.

Having less bacteria can help prevent tonsil stones from forming.

Nonalcoholic mouthwash is available in drugstores and online.

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4. Toothbrush

A woman brushes her tongue in front of the mirror to prevent tonsil stones.
People can reduce the amount of excess bacteria in the mouth by brushing the tongue.

A person can also remove a tonsil stone with the back of a toothbrush. Flip the brush over and use the nonbristled side to free the tonsil stone from the back of the throat.

Never use this method with children, as there is a danger of them choking.

Brushing the tongue as well as the teeth can help reduce the amount of excess bacteria in the mouth and prevent future tonsil stones from developing.

5. Saltwater gargle

A warm saltwater gargle may help loosen tonsil stones. A person can prepare this by adding half a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water. Gargle the liquid for 10–15 seconds.

Saltwater gargles can also help relieve a sore, scratchy throat.

6. Apple cider vinegar gargle

Gargling with diluted apple cider vinegar may help break down the materials in the tonsil stones.

Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of warm water and gargle. Doing so up to three times a day can help loosen the stones over time.

How long do tonsil stones last?

Tonsil stones usually dislodge themselves over time. A person may cough out a stone or feel it dislodge before swallowing it.

However, if a person has a persistent stone that seems to be getting larger, they may wish to talk to a doctor.

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Medical treatment

For an individual with frequent, irritating tonsil stones, a doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy, which is the surgical removal of the tonsils.

While the surgery is common in children, adults may experience significant bleeding and recovery times.

A doctor usually only recommends a tonsillectomy if a person is experiencing significant pain, infection, or problematic halitosis as a result of their tonsil stones.

A person should speak to a doctor if they have questions.

When to see a doctor

Older man with left ear pain alongside tonsil stones.
Anyone who experiences ear pain or other symptoms alongside tonsil stones should see a doctor.

If a person is unable to remove a tonsil stone with the home remedies listed above, they should not try to force the stone out with a sharp object, as this can cause bleeding.

The area around the tonsils contains many blood vessels, so a person should not attempt to remove tonsil stones with toothpicks, pens, or safety pins, for example.

If a tonsil stone persists for several weeks, talk to a doctor about removal. A specialist called an ear, nose, and throat doctor usually deals with tonsil stones.

People who frequently develop or cough up tonsil stones should seek medical attention for signs of tonsil infection, such as:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • enlarged tonsils that make it hard to breathe
  • pain that radiates to the ears
  • pus or white discharge from the tonsils
  • severely enlarged tonsils
  • bleeding in the tonsil area
  • sleep-disordered breathing

A doctor should decide on the best course of action for a child with tonsil stones or inflamed tonsils. Trying to dislodge a tonsil stone in a child can cause choking.

A person may require antibiotics and rest to treat an active infection.


While tonsil stones are usually a minor irritation, they sometimes lead to infection and discomfort.

When this is the case, a person should talk to a doctor about treatment options.

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Medical News Today: 6 innovations from Future Healthcare 2019

This week, Medical News Today attended the Future Healthcare Exhibition and Conference. Delegates presented us with technology, both new and old, destined to push healthcare forward.
Future Healthcare 2019 Logo

Future Healthcare is an annual event that takes place in London in the United Kingdom.

It is a showcase of international innovation in the healthcare space. This year, over 350 brands attended.

We spent much of our time listening to short introductions to new products in the Health Innovators Theatre.

They all had the potential to change the way that healthcare professionals deliver and monitor healthcare.

As ever, data and the way experts manipulate them featured heavily. As one presenter asked, “Data [are] the answer, what is the question?”

However, there were also companies attempting to reinvent old technologies using a fresh approach.

Below is a brief introduction to some of the products that piqued our interest this year.

1. Detecting dementia early

Today, Alzheimer’s disease — the most common form of dementia — is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. As the population’s average age slowly rises, the number of deaths due to dementia are likely to rise in line.

Despite this, catching dementia early remains challenging. Oxford Brain Diagnostics believe that their technology can catch the condition years before symptoms become apparent.

Their secret lies in cortical disarray measurement (CDM). In short, this technique enables scientists to gather an “extra level of detail” from existing MRI scans. This allows them to detect changes in the microanatomy of the brain.

Dr. Steven Chance — Oxford Brain Diagnostics’ CEO — told MNT that “CDM extracts information about the microscopic structure of the brain’s gray matter by applying a unique analysis to a standard form of MRI scan.”

The method reveals the damage to the cerebral cortex even in the early stages of disease because it is sensitive to disruption at the cellular scale.”

Dr. Steven Chance

Alongside the obvious benefits of spotting the signs of dementia earlier, the technology might also assist the pharmaceutical industry: Researchers could quantify how experimental drugs affect the microstructure of the brain.

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2. Blockchain for health

Healthcare has always been about the patient, of course. However, in recent years, there has been an increasing push to involve the patient more deeply. Particularly, there has been discussion around how doctors store our data, who keeps them, and how they are shared.

Medicalchain want to change how people access their medical records. By using secure blockchain technology — most famous for its use in cryptocurrency — they have designed a way that patients can view and, when necessary, share their data with clinicians. Medicalchain have outlined their product in a white paper:

“Medicalchain enables the user to give healthcare professionals access to their personal health data. Medicalchain then records interactions with [these] data in an auditable, transparent, and secure way on Medicalchain’s distributed ledger.”

This technology, the company believes, would empower the patient. Also, as online consultations become more popular, this technology would help overcome some of their inherent privacy and security issues.

The company are currently in talks with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. They hope that soon, their services could be open to the public at large.

3. Mobile cancer screening

In 2018, globally, there were 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer. Around 90 percent of deaths from cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income societies.

EVA System
The hand-held EVA System.

Better screening and earlier intervention could significantly reduce the mortalty rate.

MobileODT have designed a battery-powered, hand-held colposcope called the EVA System, which can take high-quality images of the cervix.

MobileODT worked with the National Cancer Institute to develop a machine learning algorithm, called automatic visual evaluation (AVE), that can produce an accurate diagnosis in minutes.

A prospective, multicenter pilot study that scientists conducted in Korea showed that the device is more than 90 percent accurate.

Yael Misrahi — head of global partnerships at MobileODT — outlined the product at Future Healthcare. MNT caught up with her after the event, and she explained that one of the primary benefits of this system is that “it is handheld and can be used by a nonexpert healthcare provider.”

Because the device is based on smartphone technology, it is user-friendly and includes a “remote consultation feature to consult experts either in real-time or during a quality assurance check.”

[W]ith AVE — the machine learning algorithm for detection of pre-cancer — there is no need for a scrape or a lab and a woman is able to receive a result at the point of care rather than waiting several weeks or months for a result.”

Yael Misrahi

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4. Upgrading disposable batteries

How batteries work has remained relatively unchanged for decades. BlueThink — without altering the underlying chemistry — have developed a way of making a common type of battery safer and more cost-effective.

BlueThink battery
BlueThink’s battery is compact, simply constructed, flexible, and safe.

Manufacturers now widely use button batteries in medical devices, as BlueThink’s Javier Eduardo Nadal explained to MNT:

“Medical devices are now smarter and more user-friendly than ever before.”

“This growing trend relies on good design and the use of technologies like LEDs and screens to improve the user experience, as well as connectivity to provide patients, doctors, and healthcare systems with valuable data.”

“All these innovative devices have one thing in common: They need energy.”

Button batteries are not without their problems; if a person leaves them on a shelf for a long time, they lose their charge. If they are incinerated — for instance, those of contaminated disposable medical equipment — they explode.

They are also harmful to the environment and a significant hazard for children if swallowed.

According to BlueThink, they have found a way to mitigate all of the above. Using standard battery technology but with a twist, they have created a flexible battery that a child could safely swallow, that does not explode when incinerated, and that keeps its charge when left on a shelf.

Importantly, it is also low-cost and producible in large quantities.

Nadal told MNT that “[a] small amount of energy can make a big difference in a medical device, but it must not compromise user experience, safety, or sustainability.”

5. Robots vs. loneliness

Loneliness is a real, increasing issue in the U.S. and globally. In fact, many healthcare professionals now recognize loneliness as a risk factor for a number of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

Genie Connect close up
Genie Connect promises to combat loneliness.

For this reason, we need to address loneliness with urgency.

Service Robotics Limited have recently created an innovative solution that aims to bridge this gap.

Genie Connect is a friendly looking miniature robot. The designers described it as “a companion robot service that uses a friendly, intuitive, voice-enabled robot to offer connectivity and support […] older adults.”

It can carry out commands in a similar way to other popular virtual assistants, but it has a range of bespoke, customizable features.

Genie Connect can have a conversation and set up video chats with healthcare professionals and family members. Service Robotics Limited designed it to help stimulate and engage the user’s mind. It also reminds the user when to take medication and attend appointments.

There is a common concern that robots will take away the jobs of humans; in this case, Genie Connect fills a gap that humans currently leave open.

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6. Breathe more easily?

Perhaps the most unusual device we saw at Future Healthcare 2019 was called SoeMac. According to its creators, “SoeMac alternative therapy creates energized oxygen, which your body can safely use to help restore itself at night while you sleep.”

SoeMac is a small, rectangular device that gently whirrs. A user simply switches it on and leaves it by their bed at night. According to the designers, it helps us breathe more easily and sleep better.

They say that “it works by drawing air inside and producing a bio-usable form of energized oxygen, known as Singlet Oxygen Energy, or SOE.”

“This can help your body to carry out essential restorative work while you sleep at night, boosting the effectiveness of your nighttime detoxification and bodily repair functions.”

It is crucial to note that so far, no clinical trials back up these claims. However, SoeMac’s creators are planning studies in the near future. In particular, they hope that it might give relief to people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Overall, Future Healthcare 2019 was a thoroughly interesting event. It is always exciting being party to the cutting edge of medical innovation.

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Medical News Today: Surgery with ultrasound treats high blood pressure in trial

A minimally invasive surgical procedure that targets nerves leading to the kidneys could one day offer a safe way for some people to reduce their blood pressure medications.
older lady looking at blood pressure results with doctor
Scientists find a new way to optimize blood pressure control.

Investigators have announced the 6-month results of an international clinical trial on the safety and effectiveness of renal denervation by ultrasound as a treatment for mild to moderate high blood pressure.

The findings featured recently at the American College of Cardiology Conference in New Orleans and in a study paper in the journal Circulation.

Surgeons carry out the procedure, which takes about 1 hour, under local anesthetic. It decreases activity in nerves that link the brain to the kidneys and carry signals that regulate blood pressure.

The 2-month results from the randomized, controlled trial had already shown that the procedure resulted in a more significant reduction in blood pressure, compared with a “sham operation.”

None of the people in the trial took their blood pressure drugs during the first 2 months. They then resumed blood pressure medication in a managed way, as necessary.

Now, the more recent results reveal that the participants who underwent the ultrasound surgery maintained their reduced blood pressure for 6 months.

Compared with those who had the sham operation, fewer participants who had the surgery needed to resume blood pressure medication, and those who did required fewer drugs at lower doses.

“These results,” says lead trial investigator in the United Kingdom Melvin D. Lobo, a professor at Queen Mary University in London and also of Barts Health NHS Trust, both in the U.K., “point towards an exciting future for this new technology.”

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Hypertension and kidney nerves

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a growing global health issue. According to a report in The Lancet, between 1975 and 2015, the number of adults living with high blood pressure rose from 594 million to 1.13 billion.

Having high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and other conditions.

Some people can keep their blood pressure under control by watching their weight, doing plenty of exercise, and maintaining a healthful diet. Others may need to supplement these measures with medication.

However, some people struggle to control high blood pressure even with lifestyle changes and medication.

The kidneys have a rich system of nerves for sending and receiving messages.

Scientists have discovered that overactivity in this system can raise blood pressure through its interaction with the body’s sympathetic nervous system.

Renal denervation by ultrasound is a treatment that aims to relieve high blood pressure by disrupting the nerves leading to the kidneys.

The procedure involves inserting a device through a catheter in the groin to reach up into the artery of a kidney. The device emits ultrasound waves that then heat up and damage some of the nerve fibers that surround the artery.

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6-month results look promising

The 6-month results report a comparison of the procedure with a sham operation in 140 people at 51 sites in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

After 6 months, 58 percent of those who underwent the procedure had maintained their lower blood pressure compared with 42 percent who had received the sham operation.

Overall, most of the participants needed to resume their medications to maintain blood pressure control. However, 35.8 percent of the renal denervation group were still not taking drugs at the 6-month point compared with only 15.5 percent in the sham operation group.

Those who underwent renal denervation also showed a greater reduction in blood pressure. After 6 months, the average reduction was 18.1 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in the treatment group and 15.6 mm Hg in the sham operation group.

There were no safety issues among any of the participants.

It is important to know that the company that manufactures the renal denervation device that the surgeons used in this trial also funded the study.

If long-term safety and efficacy are proven in larger trials which are currently underway, we hope that renal denervation therapy could soon be offered as an alternative to many lifelong medications for hypertension.”

Prof. Melvin D. Lobo

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Medical News Today: What are speech disorders?

Speech is the process of producing specific sounds that convey meaning to the listener. A speech disorder refers to any condition that affects a person’s ability to produce sounds that create words.

Speech is one of the main ways in which people communicate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas with others. The act of speaking requires the precise coordination of multiple body parts, including the head, neck, chest, and abdomen.

In this article, we explore what speech disorders are and the different types. We also cover the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of speech disorders.

What is a speech disorder?

Image of a woman's mouth who may have a speech disorder
A speech disorder is not the same as a language disorder.

Speech disorders affect a person’s ability to form the sounds that allow them to communicate with other people. They are not the same as language disorders.

Speech disorders prevent people from forming correct speech sounds, while language disorders affect a person’s ability to learn words or understand what others say to them.

However, both speech and language disorders can make it more difficult for a person to express their thoughts and feelings to others.


Speech disorders can affect people of all ages.

Some types of speech disorder include stuttering, apraxia, and dysarthria. We discuss each of these types below:


Stuttering refers to a speech disorder that interrupts the flow of speech. People who stutter can experience the following types of disruption:

  • Repetitions occur when people involuntarily repeat sounds, vowels, or words.
  • Blocks happen when people know what they want to say but have difficulty making the necessary speech sounds. Blocks may cause someone to feel as though their words are stuck.
  • Prolongations refer to the stretching or drawing out of particular sounds or words.

The symptoms of stuttering can vary depending on the situation. Stress, excitement, or frustration can cause stuttering to become more severe. Some people may also find that certain words or sounds can make a stutter more pronounced.

Stuttering can cause both behavioral and physical symptoms that occur at the same time. These can include:

  • tension in the face and shoulders
  • rapid blinking
  • lip tremors
  • clenched fists
  • sudden head movements

There are two main types of stuttering:

  • Developmental stuttering affects young children who are still learning speech and language skills. Genetic factors significantly increase a person’s likelihood of developing this type of stutter.
  • Neurogenic stuttering occurs when damage to the brain prevents proper coordination between the different regions of the brain that play a role in speech.


The brain controls every single action that people make, including speaking. Most of the brain’s involvement in speech is unconscious and automatic.

When someone decides to speak, the brain sends signals to the different structures of the body that work together to produce speech. The brain instructs these structures how and when to move to form the appropriate sounds.

For example, these speech signals open or close the vocal cords, move the tongue and shape the lips, and control the movement of air through the throat and mouth.

Apraxia is a general term referring to brain damage that impairs a person’s motor skills, and it can affect any part of the body. Apraxia of speech, or verbal apraxia, refers specifically to the impairment of motor skills that affect an individual’s ability to form the sounds of speech correctly, even when they know which words they want to say.


Dysarthria occurs when damage to the brain causes muscle weakness in a person’s face, lips, tongue, throat, or chest. Muscle weakness in these parts of the body can make speaking very difficult.

People who have dysarthria may experience the following symptoms:

  • slurred speech
  • mumbling
  • speaking too slowly or too quickly
  • soft or quiet speech
  • difficulty moving the mouth or tongue

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Woman talking to a friend over coffee who may have a speech disorder
Symptoms of a speech disorder can include repeating or prolonging sounds, rearranging syllables, and speaking very softly.

The symptoms of speech disorders vary widely depending on the cause and severity of the disorder. People can develop multiple speech disorders with different symptoms.

People with one or more speech disorders may experience the following symptoms:

  • repeating or prolonging sounds
  • distorting sounds
  • adding sounds or syllables to words
  • rearranging syllables
  • having difficulty pronouncing words correctly
  • struggling to say the correct word or sound
  • speaking with a hoarse or raspy voice
  • speaking very softly


Causes of speech disorders can include:

Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a person developing a speech disorder include:

  • being male
  • being born prematurely
  • having a low weight at birth
  • having a family history of speech disorders
  • experiencing problems that affect the ears, nose, or throat


A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a healthcare professional who specializes in speech and language disorders.

An SLP will evaluate a person for groups of symptoms that indicate one type of speech disorder. To make an accurate diagnosis, SLPs need to rule out other speech and language disorders and medical conditions.

An SLP will review a person’s medical and family history. They will also examine how a person moves their lips, jaw, and tongue and may inspect the muscles of the mouth and throat.

Other methods of evaluating speech disorders include:

  • Denver articulation screening examination. This test evaluates the clarity of a person’s pronunciation.
  • Prosody-voice screening profile. SLPs use this test to examine multiple aspects of a person’s speech, including pitch, phrasing, speech patterns, and speaking volume.
  • Dynamic evaluation of motor speech skills (DEMSS) manual. The DEMSS is a comprehensive guide for helping SLPs diagnose speech disorders.

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Speech therapist talking to young boy with a speech disorder
A person may receive speech therapy to treat a speech disorder.

The type of treatment will typically depend on the severity of the speech disorder and its underlying cause.

Treatment options can include:

  • speech therapy exercises that focus on building familiarity with certain words or sounds
  • physical exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles that produce speech sounds

We discuss some of the treatment options for speech disorders below:

Target selection

Target selection involves a person practicing specific sounds or words to familiarize themselves with particular speech patterns. Examples of therapy targets may include difficult words or sounds that trigger speech disruptions.

Contextual utilization

For this approach, SLPs teach people to recognize speech sounds in different syllable-based contexts.

Contrast therapy

Contrast therapy involves saying word pairs that contain one or more different speech sounds. An example word pair might be “beat” and “feet” or “dough” and “show.”

Oral-motor therapy

The oral-motor therapy approach focuses on improving muscle strength, motor control, and breath control. These exercises can help people develop fluency, which produces smoother speech that sounds more natural.

Ear device

Ear devices are small electronic aids that fit inside the ear canal. These devices can help improve fluency in people who have a stutter.

Some ear devices replay altered versions of the wearer’s voice to make it seem as though someone else is speaking with them. Other ear devices produce a noise that helps control stuttering.


Some speech disorders can cause people to develop anxiety disorders. Stressful situations can trigger anxiety, resulting in more pronounced speech disorder symptoms. Anxiety medications may help reduce symptoms of speech disorders in some people.


Speech disorders affect a person’s ability to produce sounds that create words. They are not the same as language disorders, which make it more difficult for people to learn words or understand what others are saying to them.

Types of speech disorder include stuttering, apraxia, and dysarthria. There are many possible causes of speech disorders, including muscles weakness, brain injuries, degenerative diseases, autism, and hearing loss.

Speech disorders can affect a person’s self-esteem and their overall quality of life. However, speech therapy, breathing exercises, and, sometimes, anti-anxiety medications can help improve speech and reduce symptoms.

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Medical News Today: What to know about a bulging disc in the neck

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.

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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.

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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.

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