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What is a Cervical Disc Herniation?

Article Details
  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A cervical disc herniation is an injury in which a disc in the upper section of the spine is ruptured or pushed out of place. Cervical hernias can result from acute trauma to the neck or a chronic condition, such as degenerative disc disease. Most cases of herniation result in pain, radiating numbness, and weakness in the extremities. Depending on the severity and location of a cervical disc herniation, a patient may be able to recover in a matter of weeks with rest and pain management techniques. A serious injury that puts pressure on the spinal cord might necessitate surgery to prevent permanent complications.

The cervical spine is comprised of seven vertebrae that run from the base of the skull to the shoulder region. Vertebrae are separated by soft discs that help cushion the spine and absorb shocks from movement. A disc can herniate when is weakened due to age-related degeneration or a sudden impact. Impact injuries are especially common in contact sports and automobile accidents where the neck is not sufficiently protected.

A person who suffers an acute or progressive cervical disc herniation can experience a number of physical symptoms. Most acute injuries are immediately painful, while chronic conditions tend to cause dull pains that come and go. A herniated disc can press upon spinal nerves, leading to weakening, numbness, or tingling sensations in the arms or legs. A person may experience paralysis if the disk pinches the spinal cord.

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Emergency room personnel and primary care doctors can administer diagnostic imaging tests to check for signs of a cervical disc herniation. X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging tests can reveal the precise location and the seriousness of a rupture. After receiving an initial diagnosis, a patient may be referred to a spine specialist for a more thorough screening. A specialist can determine the best treatment measures based on the age and physical condition of the patient.

Injuries or chronic conditions that do not cause debilitating pain may be able to heal largely on their own. A patient is often instructed to avoid intense physical activity and take prescription medications for pain and swelling. He or she may be fitted with a neck brace to help stabilize and immobilize the cervical spine during recovery. Once medical checkups reveal that the disc is healing, a patient can engage in guided physical therapy to strengthen muscles and complete the recovery process.

Surgery is needed when the spinal cord is involved or when a cervical disc herniation does not heal on its own. Procedures usually involve removing part or all of a damaged disc and filling the space with grafted or artificial tissue. A very serious condition may necessitate a vertebral fusion, in which vertebra are permanently secured together to prevent slipping. Intense physical therapy often follows surgeries to help patients learn to overcome pain and range of motion problems.

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