Cervical Herniated Discs Symptoms and Causes

A cervical herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when a disc in the neck area (cervical) of the spinal column is damaged by injury, disease or the normal wear and tear of aging. Intervertebral spinal discs are shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae (spinal bones) that keep them from rubbing against each other. The disc is composed of a tough outer ring of fibrous tissue (annulus fibrosus) and a more gelatinous, soft material on the inside called the nucleus pulposus. When a disc is damaged, it may bulge or rupture (herniate) outside of its normal position and cause pain and other nerve-related problems.

Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms

If a cervical herniated disc, or ruptured disc, has not caused significant spinal cord compression, it may cause neck pain without any other symptoms. If the spinal cord is compressed, you may develop symptoms of cervical herniated disc such as:

  • Painful "pinched" nerves
  • Weakness in one or both arms
  • Weakness in hands, especially when gripping or shaking hands
  • Weakness in one or both legs
  • Numbness or paresthesias (pins and needles)
  • Difficulty with fine motor activities of your hands such as buttoning your shirts
  • Difficulty with walking
  • Difficulty controlling your bowel or bladder function

If the nerve roots are compressed (in cases of acute cervical herniated discs), symptoms may also include neck pain that radiates down your arms and hands on one side of your body

Cervical Herniated Disc Causes

  • Degenerative spine disease – This is the most common cause of a cervical ruptured disc brought about by the natural wear-and-tear process of aging. Gradually, the ligaments and exterior of the disc spaces weaken and allow the disc contents to bulge or expel out of the normal disc space. 
  • Spine injuries – Traumatic injuries may cause cervical herniated discs by creating tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer, or capsule, of the disc and forcing the jellylike nucleus of the disc to bulge, rupture or break into fragments.

Additionally, people who smoke are at a much higher risk for developing herniated discs than nonsmokers.

Cervical Herniated Disc Treatment

Cervical herniated discs are first treated with nonsurgical approaches like rest, modified activities, medications to relieve pain and inflammation, physical therapy and possibly stronger medications like steroid injections. Symptoms of cervical ruptured disc normally improve over time. However, if the herniated disc is pressing on your spinal cord and creating severe problems that can't be resolved without surgery, anterior cervical discectomy with cervical fusion surgery should be considered to remove the problem disc and re-stabilize the spine.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Spine Services in New York treats cervical herniated disc problems as well as a broad range of conditions affecting the spine.

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