There are seven vertebrae that make up the cervical portion of your spine. When they are healthy and in perfect alignment, they help support your head and facilitate neck movement, but if they degenerate over time, the discs can shift and compress nearby nerves or tissues. When this happens, it’s known as a herniated disc. Below, we take a closer look at cervical herniated discs, and how they are treated.
Cervical Herniated Disc Causes and Symptoms
As we alluded to above, herniated discs in the neck are often caused by spinal disc degeneration due to decades of stress and microtrauma. As the vertebral discs wear down over time, they become less stable and more prone to shifting, which is why herniated discs are more common in older adults. That being said, vertebrals discs can also shift as a result of acute trauma. We’ve treated cervical herniated discs that developed as a result of a car accident or a sports injury in younger patients as well. Smoking also weakens the integrity of the spinal column, which means herniated cervical discs are more common in smokers.
Symptoms of a cervical herniated disc include:
- Muscle weakness
- Radiating pain to the extremities
- Tingling in the extremities
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
Diagnosing and Treating Cervical Disc Herniation
The routine for diagnosing a herniated disc in your cervical spine is pretty standard. It will begin with your doctor taking a look at your medical history and asking about your symptoms. From there, they will conduct some physical tests to see which motions cause or do not cause discomfort. This will help them pinpoint the expected location of the herniation. To confirm their diagnosis, they will likely order an imaging test like an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.
After you’ve been diagnosed with a cervical herniated disc, your doctor will explain your treatment options. Fortunately, the majority of herniated discs in the neck respond well to conservative care options. Some common non-surgical treatment options for cervical herniated discs include:
- Physical Therapy
- Activity Modification
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications
- Corticosteroid Injections
If your herniated disc doesn’t respond after at least six weeks of conservative care, or your symptoms are severe and need more hands-on treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery depends on your specific situation, but the goal of surgery is either to remove or stabilize the shifted segment. Sometimes this is achieved by a decompression procedure where part of the offending disc is removed, while other times it is rectified with a spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement operation.
For more information about your options, or to talk to a spine specialist about your neck pain, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office today.