What is a cervical disc herniation?

The discs of the spine are made up of a tough rubbery exterior, called the annulus. The interior of the disc, called the nucleus, has a soft, jelly-like center. The annulus has plies, or layers of tissue that keep the soft center in the middle. If the layers become damaged or torn, the soft center leaks out. (Imagine a jelly doughnut with the center squeezing out). The act of the nucleus, escaping the annulus is the actual herniation of the disc. What occurs next is pain caused by the herniation, when the protrusion presses on the nerve roots right next to the disc and even on the spinal cord. A cervical disc herniation is a common condition that can lead to a considerable amount of pain in the back of the neck.  Other symptoms include neck, shoulder, arm, and hand pain. The experts at BICMD can diagnose the cause of neck pain and can give you treatment options for a cervical disc herniation. This can be done through a state-of-the-art telemedicine visit, where you can talk with the best orthopedic spine specialists in the country, from the comfort of your own home.

What is the cervical spine?

The spine is separated into three sections: cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. The cervical spine (neck area) is made up of seven upper vertebrae (numbered C-1 through C-7), which attach to the skull and hold up the head. The base of the c-spine connects to the thoracic spine at the upper back, near the shoulder. The vertebra, or bones of the cervical spine encase the spinal cord, providing a protective tunnel for the nerves that supply the upper body with movement and sensation. The cervical bones, or vertebra are separated by discs. The discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebra and allow the neck to move freely.

What are the symptoms of a cervical disc herniation?

A herniated disc, sometimes called a ruptured disc or bulging disc is one of the most common causes of neck pain. If the herniated disc is pressing on a nerve in the neck, common symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Neck pain in the back or sides of the neck
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm or hand pain
  • Pain that radiates to the shoulder blade
  • Neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Weakness in the shoulder, arm or hands
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers and hands

How is a cervical disc herniation diagnosed?

Our “Best in Class” orthopedic spine specialists can diagnose a cervical disc herniation with an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. This scan uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the cervical spine. An MRI scan is the preferred method for diagnosing a cervical disc herniation because of the high-quality view of the discs and soft tissues. For patients who are unable to have an MRI, a CT scan can be used to assess the health of the spine and the discs.

What is the treatment for a herniated cervical disc?

Non-surgical treatment for neck pain:

Not all herniated cervical discs require surgery. Often a conservative approach is recommended before surgical options. Non-surgical treatment for neck pain or a herniated disc may include:

  • Rest
  • NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Ice or heat therapy
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Oral steroids
  • Spinal Injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy

Surgical treatment for cervical disc herniation:

Surgery for a bulging or herniated cervical disc may be advised if non-surgical treatment fails to alleviate pain. If weakness is significant or if neurological deficits, such as numbness in the extremities and tingling in the hands, is present, surgery may be necessary. Surgical treatment may include:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)
  • Cervical disc replacement
  • Cervical Laminoplasty
  • Anterior cervical corpectomy

If you are suffering neck pain and would like more information about the treatments available for a cervical disc herniation, or to obtain a 2nd opinion before having a surgical procedure, please contact our specialists, by clicking on “Connect With a Doctor.” You will be connected to one of our orthopedic telemedicine experts through our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform.