The human spine is remarkable, for it is capable of carrying out countless maneuvers and functions. From the base of the brain to the lower back, the spine enables movement, flexibility and control in our everyday lives. It also serves as protection for the delicate spinal cord. The cervical spine, also referred to as the neck, is particularly impressive in its ability to hold up a great deal of weight in relation to its fragility. Unfortunately, it is common for the cervical vertebrae to degenerate due to the natural aging process or trauma.
Due to natural degeneration, accidents and other factors, the neck is an area of the body that causes many individuals a great deal of pain and discomfort. This is particularly true when a cervical disc herniates.
What Is a Herniated Disc in the Neck?
Thirty-three bones called vertebrae make up the human spine—the cervical spine alone is made up of seven. Between each vertebra lie intervertebral discs whose function is to cushion the spine and act as shock absorbers. These discs help the spine deal with everyday wear and tear and protect the spinal bones and sensitive nerves that stem from the spinal cord. Each disc has a fibrous outer layer, the annulus, and a gel-like inner layer called the nucleus.
A herniated disc (i.e., torn disc, ruptured disc, slipped disc) in the neck happens when the annulus sustains some sort of damage that allows the nucleus material to protrude and press against adjacent nerves. Additional damage or injury to a herniated cervical disc may cause even more of the nucleus to push past the annulus and put pressure on the spinal cord. About 10 percent of all herniated disc cases happen in the cervical, or neck, region of the spine.
What Causes a Disc to Herniate in the Neck?
Spinal discs can tear or herniate for a variety of reasons, including injury, improperly lifting, or repetitive work. Additionally, cervical discs may degenerate, bulge or herniate without any clear cause; sometimes a genetic predisposition to degenerative disc disease can lead to herniated discs. No matter what the cause is, it’s very common for herniated discs in the neck to bring about pain that’s dull-to-severe in nature and cause an array of other unpleasant symptoms.
Symptoms of a Cervical Herniated Disc
Individuals suffering from a herniated disc in the neck can experience different symptoms. Because herniated discs oftentimes put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, symptoms can vary depending on the location of the affected disc. Some individuals with a herniated disc may experience no pain or symptoms if the disc does not come into contact with adjacent nerves.
Common symptoms include pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, chest or hands.
Who’s at Risk for a Herniated Disc in the Neck?
It is possible for anyone to sustain a herniated disc in the neck, but some people are more at risk than others. Overall, herniated discs become more common as we age, but they can also be seen in active children or young adults. Others who are at risk for herniated discs in the cervical spine region include those who are overweight, work at a physically demanding hobbies or jobs (heavy lifting, pulling, twisting and/or pushing) and people with a genetic predisposition to developing degenerative discs.
The MISI Approach to Herniated Disc Treatment for the Neck
Symptoms of a herniated disc can often be alleviated through non-surgical treatments including medication, physical therapy or injections. If relief is not achieved though these conservative methods, surgical intervention may be needed. Traditional methods of treating a herniated disc in the neck may require hospitalization, large incisions, increased risk and scarring and leave patients in recovery for a matter of months, we take a different approach. The spine specialist at MISI utilize minimally invasive surgical techniques when possible to alleviate pain by removing disc material compressing the nerve or spinal cord. This technique allows patients a faster, easier recovery with smaller incisions and less risk.
With nothing more than a simple bandage, our patients can oftentimes leave our facility within 24 hours of their surgery. For more information about our approach to minimally invasive treatments for a herniated disc in the neck, visit our treatment page here.
Are You Suffering from a Herniated Disc in the Neck?
If you are experiencing neck pain that has lasted longer than a few months or any of the symptoms mentioned above, please contact MISI to schedule a consultation with a specialist to discuss your options.
Dr. Bryce Benbow has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.