Cervical Disc Herniation

The intervertebral discs are located between each vertebral body and provide cushioning and shock absorption.  There is one disc for every two vertebrae. The discs are made of two parts: the annulus fibrosus, the thick, outer, fibrous layer; and the nucleus pulposus, the soft, gel-like center. The fibrous outer layer is strong and tough and protects the inner gel-like center which distributes pressure across the disc.

Also called a protruding disc, ruptured disc or slipped disc, a herniated disc occurs when the tough outer layer weakens and tears. This results in some of the inner, gel-like material to protrude into the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord or irritating and impinging nearby nerve roots. Cervical disc herniation is a common cause of neck and arm pain in adults.

Cervical disc herniation is common in both sexes in their 30s to 50s but is most frequently diagnosed in patients aged 50 to 60.

It is caused by age-related wear and tear (degeneration), genetics, excess body weight, smoking, trauma, repetitive movements associated with labor and professional work, and sudden movements and strains like a heavy lift. Degeneration due to aging is the most common cause of a herniated disc.

Degenerative disc disease is caused by natural, age-related wear and tear on the spinal discs.

As we age the discs degenerate, dry out, become less flexible and flatten. Then just one wrong move and the disc can split open and spill some of its contents into the spinal canal or on to nearby nerves. Degenerative discs can create or contribute to other spinal conditions including disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or shifting of one vertebra over another.

Many people with degenerative discs have no symptoms or only mild discomfort. However, symptomatic cervical disc herniation can cause more severe symptoms including sudden sporadic neck pain; shooting pain in the shoulder and arm that can run into the fingers, called radicular pain; numbness, tingling, hand and arm weakness; and if it compresses the spinal cord, potential problems with fine motor skills and balance. 

Your Dallas Neurosurgical & Spine specialist will ask about your symptoms and what activity evokes your symptoms, review your medical history and any past treatments, and perform a physical exam to check for soreness. They will also perform a neurological exam testing your reflexes, strength and sensations. Imaging tests such as an MRI or myelogram may be ordered to identify spinal cord pressure or pressure on nerve roots. When appropriate, your doctor may order nerve conduction tests to pinpoint the location of nerve damage.

Most cases of acute disc herniation resolve within several weeks without any surgical intervention. Nevertheless, when you experience neck pain that causes concern don’t hesitate to contact Dallas Neurosurgical & Spine to schedule a consultation.

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