Cervical Disc Herniation happens when some of the central material, or nucleus, of the disc pushes through its containing ring, or annulus. This nucleus material irritates nerves chemically and by direct pressure.
Most people with cervical disc herniations have pain in the shoulder that often radiates down the arm sometimes as far as the hand. Numbness and weakness may also be present. Most individuals with cervical disc herniation will have some neck pain, but shoulder, arm and hand pain are the dominant symptoms.
Disc herniations are diagnosed based on the location of the symptoms and confirmed with imaging studies, usually an MRI or CT myelogram.
Treatment for cervical disc herniations varies widely. Most often, treatment proceeds from less risk to more risk.
Exercise, physical therapy and chiropractic treatments can all provide relief of symptoms. Exercise should include low impact cardiovascular methods such as cycling or swimming for at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 days each week. Stretching is also beneficial as are formal programs like yoga. For most neck problems, rowing and shrugging exercise is also beneficial.
While narcotic pain medications are often given for disc herniation symptoms, rarely do these medicines provide more than short term relief of symptoms, and most of these medications are highly addictive in nature. Instead, anti- inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen can provide more long-term relief without the potential for addiction.
For patients with a progressive loss of function, or for those who are in so much pain that waiting for a few months would not be possible, surgery may alleviate their symptoms more rapidly. Surgery carries some risk, but most complications are rare. The biggest advantage of surgery is that most patients experience quicker relief of their nerve pain symptoms.