The neck is the part of the spine that is made up of 7 cervical vertebrae. These small bony structures carry a lot of weight. Literally; the head weighs about 10 pounds and is supported primarily by the cervical spine. Due to the constant strain of daily motion, this part of the spine is susceptible to degenerative disc disease. Here, we discuss what it means to have cervical disc herniation due to degenerative disc disease and what can be done to reduce pain.
To have a herniated disc means that one or more discs between one or more pairs of vertebrae have torn or ruptured. Think of the vertebrae and discs of the spine as a sandwich. The vertebrae are like the bread and the discs sit between them like a filling. In the instance of the spine, the discs are soft, malleable pieces of cartilage and fluid that keep the bones from rubbing together. Discs also manage the space between vertebrae so nerves can exit the spine and travel throughout the body. A disc that is herniated has bulged out of its tough, outer edge.
Cervical disc herniation can result in localized pain called cervical radiculopathy or it can cause myelopathy, in which pain radiates down the arm. Additional symptoms include a general sense of weakness in an arm, tingling, or numbness.
How to Navigate Treatment Options
There are cases in which disc herniation may resolve without surgical intervention. When the disc is mild to moderately herniated, pain may resolve or stay manageable with medication, spinal injections, or physical therapy. However, herniated discs can also continue to worsen and degrade over time. This can lead to chronic pain. It is in this type of situation that surgery may be the best option to restore comfort and quality of life.
Surgery is recommended for cervical disc herniations that cause severe or chronic pain or nerve dysfunction. It is a good treatment option for patients who have relied on nonoperative therapies and are no longer getting relief from them.
A common surgical procedure for cervical disc herniation is a discectomy. The term describes the removal of the disc that is irritating the spinal cord or nerve. Because structural integrity is a vital aspect of mobility and comfort, the removed disc may be replaced. Alternatively, the two vertebrae that surround the damaged disc may be fused together to prevent friction. The outcomes for the discectomy procedure are generally excellent when patients participate in their recommended aftercare strategies.