Cervical Spine Disc Herniation

June 12 23:13 2019 Print This Article

Cervical disc herniation (herniated disc) is a rupture and/or bulge of an interverterbral disc in the neck. The intervertebral disc is a complex spongy structure which consists of a central sticky gelatinous portion, the nucleus, and an outer fibrous ring of tissue, the annulus. This outer ring normally keeps the soft, gel-like center of the disc contained. The gel center, known as the nucleus, can be ejected from the disc through an anular tear. If the disc herniates in the direction of the spinal cord or nerve root, it can cause neurologic compromise. Disc herniations in the cervical spine can be serious.

If significant enough, they can cause paralysis of both the upper and lower extremities, though this is extremely rare. In most cases, a patient complains of neck pain associated with radiating pain to one arm. This is caused by compression of a nerve root, rather than the spinal cord itself. With time some herniated disc s resolve or shrink by themselves. Sometimes, disc herniations can persist, causing prolonged symptoms and neurologic problems, which may lead to surgical considerations.

The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in your back are cushioned by round, flat discs. When these discs are healthy, they act as shock absorbers for the spine and keep the spine flexible. The vertebrae surround the spinal cord and protect it from damage. Nerves branch off the spinal cord and travel to the rest of the body, allowing for communication between the brain and the body.

The brain can send a message down the spinal cord and out through the nerves to make the muscles move. The nerves also send information such as pain and temperature from the body back to the brain. The vertebrae are connected by a disc and two small joints called “facet” joints. The disc, which is made up of strong connective tissues which hold one vertebra to the next, acts as a cushion or shock absorber between the vertebrae. The disc and facet joints allow for movements of the vertebrae and therefore let you bend and rotate your neck and back. The disc is made of a tough outer layer called the “annulus fibrosus” and a gel-like center called the “nucleus pulposus.” As you get older, the center of the disc may start to lose water content, making the disc less effective as a cushion. As a disc deteriorates, the outer layer can also tear.

Causes of Cervical Spine Disc Herniation

A herniated disc usually is caused by wear and tear of the disc (also called disc degeneration ). As we age, our discs lose some of the fluid that helps them maintain flexibility. Most patients do not remember a specific event or injury that caused their disc herniation. It most often seems to start without any apparent reason. However, it can be caused by an automobile accident, work injury or sports injury.

  • Injury.
  • Aging.

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Spine Disc Herniation

The cervical spine consists of the top seven bones, called vertebrae, in your spine located between the skull and chest. The first symptom of cervical disc herniation is usually neck pain. It may also cause numbness in the arm or hand, headaches, or pain around the shoulder blade. Weakness in muscle groups associated with the nerve is also not uncommon. If the disc herniation is large enough to compress the spinal cord, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs might develop.

  • Spasticity.
  • Pain in one arm or in both arms.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control, erectile dysfunction.
  • Hyperactive reflexes.
  • Weakness with handgrip.

Treatment for Cervical Spine Disc Herniation

In most cases, cervical herniated discs are first treated with nonsurgical treatment, including rest or modified activities, medicines to relieve pain and inflammation, and exercises, as recommended by your health professional. Symptoms usually improve over time. However, if the herniated disc is squeezing your spinal cord or nerves and/or you are experiencing weakness and constant pain, surgery (discectomy) will be considered first.

  • Rest.
  • Steroid medication.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Physical therapy that may include cervical traction.