A herniated cervical disc is a condition that occurs specifically in the discs of the neck. The disc, being a round, soft fluid filled cushion sits between the spinal vertebrae to keep them from rubbing together. The condition in this area starts as usual with a disc bulge from some sort of weakness.
As the surface of the neck disc continues to be stressed, the outer surface eventually ruptures known as a herniation.
The outer surface of the disc is firm and protects the soft center core. If the outer surface tears or ruptures the fluid interior will seep out through the spinal vertebrae. This seepage often results in nerve pinching in the neck. This is often more serious than the condition lower in the back.
The pinched nerves in the neck resulting from a herniated disc can cause numbness, weakness, debilitating pain and even partial paralysis in severe cases. These symptoms most often occur in the neck, arms, hands, shoulders and upper back.
How neck disc herniation most often occurs
There is no particular segment of the population that is particularly vulnerable to a bulging or herniated disc in the neck. Older patients may exhibit symptoms characterized by the condition, though they are most often replicated by spinal stenosis or arthritis rather than an injured disc.
Common occurrences of a cervical neck herniation are found in patients who have had some type of athletic injury, such as diving or gymnastics. It also commonly shows up in patients who have had a car accident.
There are many neck disc treatment options, starting with the most conservative, though even with these, special care should be taken to avoid further injury.
- As usual the first course of prescribed treatment is pain killers and anti inflammatory drugs.
- If that fails a second level of treatment comes in the form of physical therapy, heat, massage, ultrasound. This applied to the back of the neck is to reduce the muscle spasms that commonly cause the pain in that area.
- A series of cortizone injections and local pain killers to the back of the neck called epidural blocks may be prescribed to break the cycle of pain.
- If a patient remains with debilitating pain or paralysis after the above treatments, they often opt for surgery to get relief.
When seeking treatment for a herniated disc in the neck, count on your family doctor being your first line of help. He/she will likely administer initial medication and possibly prescribe physical therapy. Your doctor will also give you whatever clearance to move and exercise as is considered safe.
If treatment has to progress into the area of epidural blocks or surgery, the patient should be referred to a Neurosurgeon. These are the specialists in the area of the spine and nerve system. A Neurosurgeon would be able to administer more advanced tests and appropriate resulting treatment.
The broad picture concerning herniated neck discs
In general, the prognosis for most cases of cervical disc herniation is quite good. around 70% of patients get past their symptoms without having to have spinal surgery performed. Only about 30% proceed to surgery.
A particularly relevant statistic is for those who can endure pain and wait up to a year for the symptoms to be resolved. In those cases symptoms disappear in around 90% of patients. The down side is that many people cannot wait it out.
The report is encouraging from highly regarded individual specialists and medical organizations. With proper medical care, whatever form that may take, most patients can receive relief from the symptoms of a cervical herniated disc.