Cervical Disc Herniation

What is cervical disc herniation?

Cervical disc herniation occurs when a cervical disc bulges out. Cervical discs are natural, spongy cushions between the vertebrae (bones) in your neck. The bulging disc may press on your nerves or spinal cord.

What causes cervical disc herniation?

  • Cracks or changes in the shape of your vertebrae may increase your risk for a bulging disc. The gel-like material inside your disc may leak out of the cracks. The whole disc may also begin to bulge out.

  • Weak discs may develop if the amount of gel-like material inside the disc decreases. This causes the disc to lose its cushion and bulge out from between your vertebrae. Your discs often begin to weaken as you age.

  • A neck injury may weaken a disc or cause it to bulge.

What are the signs and symptoms of cervical disc herniation?

A mild cervical disc herniation may not cause any signs and symptoms. You may have signs and symptoms if the bulging disc presses against your nerves or spinal cord. You may have any of the following:

  • Neck pain

  • Arm, shoulder, and upper back pain

  • Numbness, tingling, or a burning feeling in your arms or hands

  • Headaches

  • Trouble moving your arms or using your hands

  • Leg weakness and trouble walking

  • Leaking urine or bowel movements

How is cervical disc herniation diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask you about your symptoms and any health problems you have. He will check the movement and function of your neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. You may also need the following:

  • An MRI or a CT scan may be used to take pictures of your neck. The pictures can show a bulging disc. It can also show if the disc is pressing on your nerves and spinal cord. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • A myelography is an x-ray of your spinal cord. Dye will be injected into the area around your spinal cord before the pictures are taken.

  • An x-ray is a picture of the bones and tissues in your neck.

How is cervical disc herniation treated?

Your caregiver may have you rest in bed for a few days. You may also have any of the following:

  • Medicines:

    • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain. This medicine can be bought without a doctor's order. This medicine can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your caregiver if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions on it before using this medicine.

    • Prescription pain medicine may be given to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.

    • Muscle relaxers and steroids may also be given. Muscle relaxers help relax your muscles, and decrease pain and muscle spasms. Steroids decrease inflammation.

    • Injections of medicine may also be given. Chemonucleolysis helps shrink your bulging disc. An epidural numbs the area near the bulging disc and decreases pain. A nerve block is given close to the nerve that is near the bulging disc. This can help decrease pain and inflammation.

  • Support devices , such as a neck brace or a special pillow, may help to support your neck. They also help decrease your neck movement and prevent more damage.

  • Physical therapy may be recommended by your caregiver. A physical therapist works with you to make your neck muscles stronger and decrease your pain. A physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches that help your neck and back.

  • Surgery may be needed to fix your bulging disc if other treatments have failed. Surgery may also be done to decrease pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. Surgery may be done to remove your bulging disc. Your caregiver may replace the disc with a bone graft (bone from another area of your body) or an artificial disc.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You begin leaking urine or bowel movement, and it is not normal for you.

  • Your pain gets worse, even after you take medicine.

  • Your voice suddenly becomes hoarse.

  • You have trouble swallowing.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You suddenly have trouble breathing.

  • You lose feeling in one or both of your arms.

  • You are suddenly not able to move your neck, or one or both of your arms.

  • You are not able to move one or both of your legs.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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