About Cervical Herniated Discs

You probably know the cervical herniated disc by its more familiar name: "slipped disc." Although the disc doesn’t really slip, it can tear open, causing the fluid inside to push against the surrounding nerves in the neck. For some, the surgery to replace the disc with an artificial one may be an option.

Neck pain and symptoms caused by a herniated disc are common problems for many adults. The neck is composed of many different anatomic structures, including muscles, bones, ligaments, and joints. Each of these structures has nerve endings that can detect painful problems when they occur.

Definition

The tissue between the bones in your neck is called intervertebral discs. The discs are composed of a soft gel-like centre and a tough outer lining.

The intervertebral disc creates a joint between each of the bones in the spine that allows them to move. When the outer lining that surrounds a disc tears, the soft centre can squeeze out through the opening, creating a herniated disc.

Causes

As we age, the discs in our spines can lose their flexibility and elasticity. The ligaments surrounding the discs become brittle and are more easily torn. When a herniated disc occurs, it can put pressure on nearby spinal nerves (radiculopathy) or the spinal cord (myelopathy), causing painful symptoms.

Symptoms

A herniated disc in the neck can cause neck pain, radiating arm pain, shoulder pain, and numbness or tingling in the arm or hand. The quality and type of pain can vary from dull, aching, and difficult to localize to sharp, burning, and easy to pinpoint.

Pain in your arms as well as in your neck is usually the first sign that your nerve roots are irritated by a problem in your neck.

Symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and especially weakness in the muscles of your arms, are warning signs that your problem may be more serious. Weakness in your arms is a definite sign that you should see a doctor about your neck pain.

Risk Factors

The aging process and wear and tear on your spine can cause a herniated disc in the neck. A herniated disc can also be caused by repetitive activities or an injury to the spine.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a herniated disc begins with a complete physical examination of the neck, arms, and lower extremities. Your doctor will examine your neck for flexibility, range of motion, and signs that suggest that your nerve roots or spinal cord are affected by a herniated disc.

You may be asked to fill out a diagram that asks where your symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness are occurring. X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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