A cervical disc herniation occurs when a tear in the outer, fibrous ring (annulus fibrosus) of an intervertebral disc allows the soft, central portion (nucleus pulposus) to bulge out beyond the damaged outer rings, like jelly pressing out of a donut.
A herniated disc in the neck can cause intense neck pain, shoulder blade pain, shoulder numbness that extends as numbness in the arm or forearm, and a weakened grip. A cervical herniated disc can be due to trauma to the neck or shoulder, or can slowly evolve over time as the result of poor posture or increased pressure on the cervical spine.
Some of the terms commonly used to describe this neck pain condition include herniated disc, prolapsed disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, and slipped disc.
Symptoms of a Cervical Herniated Disc
A herniated disc in the neck can cause a variety of symptoms in the neck, arm, hand, and fingers, as well as parts of the shoulder. The pain patterns and neurological deficits are largely determined by the location of the herniated disc.
The cervical spine is constructed around the vertebrae, or the 7 stacked bony building blocks in the spine. They are numbered top to bottom C1 through C7. The nerve that is affected by the cervical disc herniation is the one exiting the spine at that level, so at the C5-C6 level it is the C6 nerve root that is affected.
- C4-C5 (C5 nerve root): A herniation at this level can cause shoulder pain and weakness in the deltoid muscle at the top of the upper arm, and does not usually cause numbness or tingling.
- C5-C6 (C6 nerve root): A C5-C6 disc herniation can cause weakness in the biceps (muscles in the front of the upper arms) and wrist extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate to the thumb side of the hand. This is one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation to occur.
- C6-C7 (C7 nerve root): A herniated disc in this area can cause weakness in the triceps (muscles in the back of the upper arm and extending to the forearm) and the finger extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate down the triceps and into the middle finger. This level is also one of the most common areas for a cervical disc herniation.
- C7-T1 (C8 nerve root): This level is located at the very bottom of the neck, where the cervical spine meets the thoracic, or upper, back. A herniation here can cause weakness with handgrip, along with numbness and tingling and pain that radiates down the arm to the little finger side of hand.
Depending on the severity of the herniated disc, with and without compression of the cervical nerve root, pain from this condition can leave patients with a constant need for pain medication, anti-inflammatory pills, and, at times, cortisone injections.
Following a detailed examination, we will determine if diagnostic imaging is needed and then recommend a personalized treatment plan.
Manual therapies will include Chiropractic Biophysics (CBP), 3-Dimensional Adjustments, The Pettibon System, 3-Dimensional Mirror Image Exercises and soft tissue therapies such as Active Release Technique, Transverse Cross Friction Massage, Fascial Manipulation, or Trigger Point Therapy. We will also evaluate various components of your day and suggest necessary corrections with your workstation, sleep habits, and exercise routines.