1. What is a herniated disc?
Your spine is made up of 33 vertebrae (or bones) that are stacked on top of each other. A cushion-like piece of cartilage called an “intervertebral disc” lies between each vertebra. Think of the disc like a tire with a hole full of gelatin. The rubbery part is the “annulus” and the gelatin is the “nucleus.” When you’re under 30 years old, the disc is mostly gelatin. As you grow older, you begin to lose some of this gelatin. The disc becomes less flexible and flatter, making it succeptable to injury. Sometimes, the gelatin is able to push out through a crack in the rubbery exterior and cause a rupture (tear) or herniation (bulge). Herniated discs are most common in the neck (or cervical spine) and lower back (or lumbar spine).
2. What are common herniated disc neck symptoms?
You may feel mild to intense neck or back pain, or no pain whatsoever. In fact, herniated discs have shown up on diagnostic tests of people with no symptoms. When the disc ruptures or herniates, it can pinch or press on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. Known as radiculopathy, this condition can cause pressure that leads to pain, weakness or numbness in the neck, back and legs. If you have a herniated disc in cervical spine, you may have pain, weakness, numbness, tingling or a combination of these herniated disc neck symptoms in the neck, arm or shoulder. If you have a herniated disc in the lumbar spine, you may feel the same in the back, legs or buttocks – typically, you’ll find your symptoms to be on only one side of your body.
3. What causes a herniated disc in the neck?
As we age, gradual wear and tear (degeneration) is most often what causes a herniated disc in the neck. Over time, our spinal discs lose some of their water content, making them less flexible and prone to damage with even a minor strain. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exactly what causes a herniated disc in the neck, often, it can simply be using the muscles in your back instead of your leg muscles when lifting heavy objects, or as can twisting and turning at the same time. Also, sitting improperly at a computer desk can be problematic. In extreme cases, trauma, such as a fall can cause a herniated disc.
4. How is a herniated disc in cervical spine diagnosed?
A physician or physical therapist will thoroughly evaluate your medical history and use screening tools to determine if you have a herniated disc in cervical spine. Any muscle weakness, numbness or severe pain may require special diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), myelograms or nerve conduction studies. You doctor should work closely with you and other healthcare providers to make certain you receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
5. What is the best treatment for herniated disc in neck?
Conservative treatment for herniated disc in neck, such as avoiding painful positions and an exercise and pain-medication regimen, relieves herniated disc symptoms in nine out of 10 people. A physical therapist can provide exercises and positions designed to decrease the pain of a herniated disc. As your pain improves, a rehabilitation program of core strength and stability will maximize your neck and back health, helping to prevent future injury. A small number of people with herniated discs eventually need surgical treatment.
The easiest way to avoid a herniated disc is to exercise regularly, maintain good posture and maintain a healthy weight. If you believe you are suffering from this condition, you should contact your physician or a physical therapist for evaluation. Your painful days can be behind you!