Your neck is comprised of vertebrae and discs that help your neck move comfortably. When the gel-like center of a disc ruptures and leaks out through a tear in the disc wall, it irritates the spinal nerves and causes pain. This is called a cervical disc herniation, or it may also be referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc.
What causes a herniated disc?
Discs may herniate from injury, improper lifting or movements, or spontaneously. Aging is also a factor since discs dry out and harden with age, and the outer wall of discs can also weaken. Genetics and smoking also can play a role.
Who is most at risk?
Herniated cervical discs commonly happen to people in their 30s and 40s, with middle aged and older folks at higher risk if they engage in strenuous activities. Herniated discs are more common in the lower, or lumbar, spine as opposed to the neck or cervical region.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of a herniated cervical disc vary according to its location and your response to pain. Some possible symptoms include:
- Pain when you turn your head or bend your neck
- Pain near your shoulder blade
- Pain radiating down your arm and hand
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness or tingling in your arm
- Muscle weakness in your arms or hand
- Pain when you wake up, even without any trauma
How is a herniated cervical disc diagnosed?
With the onset of pain, schedule an appointment with NYC Spine Surgeon Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC. The appointment will include medical history, explanation of symptoms, lifestyle habits, and a physical examination. Tests for numbness and muscle weakness will be conducted. NYC Spine Surgeon Dr. Fischer may order diagnostic tests like an MRI that provides a detailed view of your spine, a myelogram X-ray that includes dye injected into your spinal canal, a CT scan using an X-ray and computer imaging, an electromyography or nerve studies to measure electrical activity in your muscles and nerves, or additional X-rays to view your spine.
What about treatment?
Conservative treatment is the first step for treating most cervical disc herniations. Many patients with this condition respond to conservative methods and improve in four to six weeks. Some treatments are:
- Medications such as anti-inflammatories, analgesics, muscle relaxants, or steroids
- Steroid injections that deliver medication directly to the painful area
- Physical therapy to learn good posture, lifting and movement techniques, as well as strengthening and stretching exercises
- Holistic therapies like acupuncture, yoga, meditation, biofeedback or diet changes
When conservative treatments aren’t successful, NYC Spine Surgeon Dr. Fischer may recommend surgery if it is the optimum solution. Some procedures to treat cervical disc herniations are anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), minimally invasive microendoscopic discectomy, posterior cervical discectomy, or artificial disc replacement.
What can I expect with recovery?
Most disc herniations usually resolve in about six weeks from the onset of symptoms. Following the guidelines of a healthcare professional like NYC Spine Surgeon Dr. Fischer is advised for best results.
How can I prevent a cervical disc herniation?
Prevention is important to avoid this condition. Proper lifting, good posture, exercise, healthy weight, stress management, non-smoking, and ergonomic work areas are all steps to take to prevent cervical disc herniation.