Herniated Cervical Disc-Symptoms, Treatment


Herniated cervical disc, or cervical herniated disc, is more commonly known as slipped disc.  This condition however is not really characterized by the slippage of an intervertebral disc.  What it really is has something to do with the breaking or cracking of the outer layer of the disc, resulting to the seepage of the fluid from within.  The fluid then pushes against the adjacent nerves in the neck, thus causing neck pain that radiates to the arms, and other symptoms that ensue because of herniated cervical disc.

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How does herniated cervical disc come about?

In order to understand how herniated cervical disc transpires, we should have a bit of a review about anatomy. The spine or back bone consists of a series of bones that are connected to each other. This is referred to as the vertebrae. In between the vertebrae are discs that serve as shock absorbers or cushions between the bones. The intervertebral discs are capable of absorbing impact because the inner layer or the center is not solid, but more like gel. This is called the nucleus pulposus. The nucleus pulposus is protected by a strong outer layer, termed as the annulus fibrosus.

Now, as the body ages, the fluid in the center of the disc will start to dry out. When this happens, the disc will no longer be as effective in cushioning the bones; and the spine will not be as elastic and flexible as it used to be. Furthermore, as the disc ages, the outer layer will also deteriorate, sometimes leading to tears or cracks. The inner layer may then ooze out of the crack; this is referred to as the ruptured disc or herniated disc. The herniated cervical disc will then exert pressure on neighboring spinal nerves (known as radiculopathy) or the spinal cord itself (called myelopathy). It’s best to note that the aging process is not the only cause of herniated disc. Injury to the spine and recurring movement may also cause the condition.

When the herniated cervical disc presses on the nerves, this will result to numbness, pain, weakness or a tingling sensation to the arms and shoulders. When the spinal cord is pressed upon by the herniated disc, the legs may experience problems as well. The latter condition, however, is rare.

Symptoms of herniated cervical disc

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The typical symptoms of cervical herniated disc are somewhat similar to simple neck stiffness. For instance, neck pain which may also extend to the shoulder and arm are symptoms of herniated disc and stiff neck too. But with a herniated cervical disc, numbness in the hand or arm, as well as tingling sensation on the said parts are also present. The characteristic of the pain varies. In some cases, the pain could be sharp, intense and can be located effortlessly. Whereas in other cases, the pain is throbbing, dull and cannot be situated as easily. When there is a tingling sensation, or lack of sensation or muscle weakness in your arms, you should consult with a doctor as these may be due to a graver problem.

Diagnosis of herniated cervical disc

The doctor will make a comprehensive clinical evaluation to establish the nature of the pain as well as the location. Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination, including the arms, neck and extremities; assess any occurrence of abnormal reflexes, numbness and weakness; to confirm and locate where the disc rupture took place. X-ray, MRI and CT scans will then be conducted to confirm the herniated cervical disc.

Treatment options for herniated cervical disc

Many cases of slipped disc will resolve by itself; that is, the symptoms will improve, even without treatment. If, however, the symptoms persist, there are various options available.

Medication

Pain relievers – To alleviate pain, pain relievers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin may be used. For more severe and intense pain, narcotics may be used but only for a short period of time. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed. It is imperative that the medication you take corresponds to the type and severity of the pain, since you do not want any unnecessary side effects and possible dependency on the drugs.

Anti-inflammatory – to reduce swelling caused by herniated cervical disc, the doctor might prescribe NSAIDS.

Corticosteroids – These are for pain in the neck and arms that are not relieved by OTC pain relievers and NSAIDS. These should be used short-term only, so as to avoid harmful side effects.

Epidural blocks – These are injections of corticosteroid into the epidural space to relieve very severe arm pain.

Trigger point injections- Local anesthetics is injected directly on the area that aches along the spine.

Exercises

Together with medication, the doctor may also prescribe exercises to strengthen the neck. It is imperative for you to perform the exercises according to what the doctor or physical therapist programmed for you, to ensure that you get the desired results.

The physical therapist may also employ traction, hot and cold compresses, massages and electric stimulation to relieve pain, reduce swelling and control muscle spasm.

• Surgery – This is done in cases where conservative treatments are not effective. Discectomy is done to remove the herniated cervical disc.

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