What is a Cervical Herniated Disc?

Emma Reed blog

If you’re experiencing pain in your neck and tingling in one or both arms, one of the likely culprits is a herniated disc in your neck. Herniated discs are fairly common, especially in older adults. While it can be dealt with by a licensed chiropractor, swift action is necessary to keep the disc from deteriorating further. Certain exercises and stretches can help give your discs time to heal and get you back into prime physical shape.

A herniated disc in your neck is called a cervical herniated disc. While herniated discs in the back often affect the legs, a cervical herniated disc most commonly affects the arms. With neck injuries on the rise due to increasing computer and smartphone usage, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye out for symptoms.

The Structure of Your Spine

From the base of your neck to your tailbone, your spine is made up of vertebrae with soft discs in between. These discs provide support and flexibility and keep your vertebrae from rubbing against each other too much. The inside of the discs is soft, but the outside cartilage is strong enough to contain the gel-like inside and keep it in place throughout your life.

While discs can heal from a lot of wear and tear, there is a limit to how much pressure and damage they can take. If a disc ruptures, it can jut out and put pressure on the spinal cord or other nerves. This pressure can cause pain, numbness, tingling sensations, or a reduced range of motion. When a herniated disc occurs in your neck, it often causes tingling or numbness in one arm, and you may feel pain in your neck when you bend or twist your neck.

How Do Herniated Discs Happen?

Herniated discs are common in older adults, partly because the discs start to dry out and weaken over time. Though it’s possible for an outside force, like an automobile accident, to cause a herniated disc, it’s more common for overexertion or sprains to cause a herniated disc. Genetics may also play a role in causing herniated discs.

Preventing herniated discs isn’t as simple as preventing injuries to your neck. Poor posture and being overweight can increase the damage done to your discs over time. Since herniated discs can happen suddenly and while doing everyday tasks, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms.

Difference Between Bulging and Herniated Discs

Before a disc herniates, it will swell and can cause some discomfort. This is called a bulging disc, and it can linger for months or even years before finally rupturing and becoming a herniated disc.

Telling the difference between the two is not always easy. Pain levels can vary based on the exact location of the bulging or herniated disc. Since cervical discs are located in the neck, a bulging cervical disc can still cause symptoms in the arms. However, a bulging disc can be much harder to detect if it isn’t putting direct pressure on the spinal cord.

Complications & Treatment

A cervical herniated disc can cause loss of fine motor skills if left untreated long enough. Additionally, if one disc is herniated, there is a good chance that a second or third disc will eventually herniate as well. Consultation with a licensed chiropractor is the only way to keep the situation from getting worse.

Though over-the-counter medications can be used for temporary pain relief, a treatment plan will often require both rest and exercise. Certain stretches can improve your overall posture and neck strength, giving your cervical discs the time they need to heal. While many stretches and exercises can be done at-home, a chiropractor will have to walk you through which exercises are best for you. Pay close attention to your prescribed exercise and stretching routine, and don’t skip days because you’re too busy.

Luckily, the prognosis for herniated discs is usually very good. Despite occurring in a fragile area of your body, cervical herniated discs self-heal quite well with adequate rest. An experienced chiropractor will be able to work with you to quickly get your body back into full working order.

Emma Reed has a background in Psychology (B.A.) and Medical Anthropology (M.S.) and writes for a variety of medical publications. Her passion is making cutting-edge medical information accessible to a wider audience, and her work often examines the intersections of sociology, anthropology, and medicine.