Herniated Disc in the Neck

To better understand what is a herniated disc in the neck, patients should first familarize themselves with the anatomy of the cervical spine. In the spinal column there are discs between each vertebra. These discs are made up of soft gelatinous material (the nucleus pulposus) that acts as cushioning, or shock absorption, for the spine. They allow a certain amount of flexibility to the spine’s movements without the risk of harder bony elements grinding against each other and causing damage. Each disc has a tougher outer fibrous shell (the annulus fibrosus) which is there to keep the disc in shape.

The Beginning of Disc Herniation

If these discs themselves become damaged, or misshapen, or if there is weakening and stretching of the outer fibers, the jelly-like center can protrude from its desired location between vertebrae and put pressure on the spinal cord and its nerve fibers. A severe bulging neck disc, with tearing of the outer layers of the disc is called a herniated disc in neck and involves the disc pushing into the spinal canal. In the case of a herniated disc in neck, the herniation occurs in the cervical spine (neck). All other herniated disc conditions, thoracic and lumbar, are called herniated discs in the back. Although quite uncommon, a herniated disc can occur in the thoracic region of the spine

Herniated Disc in Neck
The left image depicts a normal disc and on the right you'll
see a disc that is herniated and pinching a nerve.

When a Bulging Disc becomes a herniated disc in neck

Bulging neck discs may remain asymptomatic for years and then become a herniated disc in neck upon acute stress or simply through prolonged degeneration of the outer fibrous casing. This can cause acute neck pain and possibly back pain, and radiating pain through the upper body and limbs. Herniation of the discs in the cervical neck means that the spine’s vertebrae are more likely to rub together causing further degeneration of the spinal column. Osteophyte growth may result which has a narrowing effect on the foramina in the spine and can lead to conditions such as cervical spinal stenosis. Herniated disc alongside ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid, and osteoarthritis can create serious mobility issues, with chronic neck pain and physical debility.

Herniated Disc Diagnosis

Diagnosis of herniated disc in the neck and other regions of the spine is usually made through X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, confirming a physician’s suspicions in most cases. Other discs close to herniating may also be observed in these scans, necessitating immediate treatment and preventative strategies. Anti-inflammatory medications, analgesics, and non-surgical spinal decompression, along with physical therapy are likely to be recommended by physicians in the first instance, with herniated disc in neck surgery reserved for intractable conditions after other efforts have failed to relieve pain and restore quality of life.

Next Read About: Herniated Disc Neck Causes

Last Updated: 04/08/2011