A herniated cervical disc occurs when the soft inner center of the disc in your spine ruptures or bulges out into the spinal canal compressing the nerves or soft tissue. This is the most common cause for neck, shoulder and arm pain.To give you a better idea of just what is going on in your spine let me help you understand how the spine works.
Your spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebra. These vertebras are separated by discs that act as shock absorbers for your spine. The intervertebral discs as they are called are made up of a tough outer shell with a soft gel like center.
It is when this outer layer weakens (either through aging or injury) that this soft center either ruptures out or bulges into the spinal canal space that you may start to experience pain in your neck, shoulder and arm. The term for the condition caused by this process, is a herniated disc.
The first 7 vertebras running down from the top of your spine are considered your cervical spine (neck area). The next 12 vertebras, again going top to bottom is your thoracic spine (middle back) while the last 5 vertebra consist of your lumbar spine (lower back).
And while you can have a herniation in any part of your spine, on this page we will be discussing just the cervical area.
Some of the causes of cervical disc herniation are:
As we age it is normal for the ligaments in your spine to weaken, as they weaken any small strains or twisting motion to that part of the spine can cause your discs to rupture or bulge out into the spinal canal.
If you where to fall or have an accident it may allow tiny cracks to appear on the hard outer layer allowing the soft gel center to leak or bulge out.It has also been shown that certain individuals may be more susceptible to discs problems, and as a result may suffer from more than one herniated disc in several places along the spine.
If you are experiencing any pain or numbness in your neck, shoulder or arms it would be best if you consult with your medical practitioner so that he or she can assess your medical history and perform an examination.
If you are diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc you will have many different choices of treatment available to you. Which treatment is most suitable to you is dependent on how serious your condition is, how much pain you are dealing with, and what works best with your lifestyle.
All of these things will be discussed with you once your doctor has confirmed that you indeed have a herniated cervical disc.
Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms
Even though you may have this condition, not everyone will feel cervical herniated disc symptoms. Many times a cervical herniated disc is accidentally diagnosed through x-rays that would are taken for some other reason.
Cervical herniated disc symptoms can vary greatly depending on where the herniation occurs. You may experience pain in your neck, pain that radiates down into your arm, or shoulder pain. Along with this pain you may also notice some numbness or tingling in your arm or hand.
It is also common with these types or herniation to have muscle weakness in your deltoid, bicep, or triceps muscle, as well as a weakened handgrip. You may also notice a decrease in pain, numbness or weakness if you where to hold your arm up in an elevated position as this relieves pressure on the nerve.
Most likely you will have begun to notice you symptoms after a fall or accident, although a herniated disc can occur naturally from the normal wear and tear that occurs over a life time.
All of the above warning signs should not be ignored; if you are experiencing any of these symptoms it would be best for you to set up an appointment to see your physician. Your physician will diagnose your condition by taking a medical history and examining your neck, back, arms and lower body.
They will check your flexibility, range of motion and muscle weakness. They will ask about any prior injuries and rule out any lifestyle habits or changes that might have instigated your symptoms.Once this is done if your doctor has any doubts he or she may order the following exams
1. MRI Scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), this is a technique that uses magnetic field and radio waves to create highly detailed images of organs and soft tissue in the body. It may or may not be performed with a contrast dye injected into the bloodstream. It is used to detect which disc is damaged and if there is any nerve compression. It can also rule out other conditions such as bone spurs, and tumors
2. CT Scan (Computed Tomography), uses X-ray techniques and computers to produce 2 dimensional images of your spine, unlike normal X-rays that focus on a particular area of the body this type would rotate around your body allowing for cross-sectional images of the inside of your body
3. X-Ray, this allows the doctor to see if any of your vertebra are too close together or if you have any of the following conditions, bone spurs, fractures or arthritis, it is not possible to confirm whether you have a herniated disc through this type of procedure, it is mostly used to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms
4. Myelogram, this is very similar to an X-ray but a dye would be injected into your spinal fluid and then X-rays would be taken, this test can show pressure on your spinal cords or nerves due to disc problems
Cervical Herniated Disc Treatment
Cervical herniated disc treatment will always start off conservatively (non surgical) unless your condition is deemed a medical emergency and requires more aggressive treatment from the start. The majority of patients that suffer from this condition, as many as 95%, will find relief using these following treatments:
your doctor will ask you to rest for a short period of time, no more then 2-3 days followed by a gradual increase in physical activities. You do not want to prolong any sort of bed rest as this can cause muscle weakness and exacerbate your condition.
2. Core strength training
this helps to strengthen the muscles in your back and stomach. Weak stomach and back muscles can lead to herniated discs due to them not being able to properly hold up the spine
3. Physical therapy
this would help you learn exercises and teach you proper posture techniques
4. Ice Therapy
it can help reduce any inflammation you may have and can also help with pain, this should be used within the first few days of symptoms
5. Heat Therapy
it can be used to calm muscle spasms and relieve sore muscles, you should never use heat if you are still experiencing any sort of swelling as this can make it worse
can be used to help relieve pain
Medications may also be prescribed to you for various reasons
1. NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Nuprin, Celebrex, these all help reduce inflammation and relieve pain
2. Tylenol to help relieve pain
3. Muscle relaxants to help deal with any muscle spasms you may be having
4. Epidural steroid injections can also be used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain; these are usually given before patients move on to other types of treatments so they can be done pain free.
Due to this treatments being temporary, they may last from a few weeks to a year, you may need to have it redone once it wears off
If after having exhausted all conservative treatments you are still dealing with symptoms that affecting your quality of life your doctor may suggest surgery.
The types of surgery that might be used to relieve your symptoms are:
1. Anterior cervical discectomy and spinal fusion
This is the most common procedure used to treat cervical herniated discs. For this surgery your surgeon would remove either debris or the entire affected disc through an incision near the affected area. After this they would use either a bone graft or artificial material to stabilize the newly empty space, plates and screws may be added to further stabilize the area and allow for a better fusion success rate
2. Posterior cervical discectomy
This is performed if the discs affected occur laterally. This is a more difficult surgery as it involves more veins in the area that can bleed and impair visualization during surgeryIf you have any questions or concerns about your herniated disc it would be best for you to consult with your doctor.