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Cervical Disc Herniation

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

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.

Cervical Disc Herniation

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
  • Weakness, numbness, tingling, or a burning feeling in your arms or hands
  • Headaches
  • Trouble moving your neck or arms, or using your hands
  • Leg weakness and trouble walking

How is cervical disc herniation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and any health problems you have. He or she 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 show the bulging disc. You may be given contrast liquid to help the disc show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider 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. A regular x-ray of the bones in your neck may also be taken.

How is cervical disc herniation treated?

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

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Muscle relaxers decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • A steroid injection may be given to reduce inflammation. Steroid medicine is injected into the epidural space. The epidural space is between your spinal cord and vertebrae. You may be given pain medicine along with the steroids.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended by your healthcare provider. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to make your neck muscles stronger. A physical therapist also teaches you stretches to decrease your pain.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. Surgery may be done to decrease pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. Surgery may be done to remove your bulging disc. Your healthcare provider may replace the disc with a bone graft (bone from another area of your body) or an artificial disc.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • 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.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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