There are two main reasons why a cervical herniated disc is not as common as a herniated lumbar disc. First, there is not much disc material located in the cervical spine. Second, there is not much force applied along the cervical spine in comparison to the lumbar section of the spine. A herniated cervical disc can be very debilitating and complex to treat.
Cervical disc herniations occur in the neck. In the area of the cervical spine, the pain radiates from the neck down the arm into the fingers. Symptoms can affect the back of the skull, the neck, shoulder girdle, scapula, shoulder, arm and hand.
Approximately 90 percent of disc herniations occur in the lumbar area. Although disc herniations are most commonly diagnosed in the lumbar region, cervical herniated discs occur in about one in ten patients. A lumbar herniated disc can cause pain to radiate all the way down the legs and into the foot.
The human spine is comprised of five different segments: the cervical spine; thoracic spine; lumbar spine; sacrum; and coccyx. Each segment supports a different part of the body. The spine is able to accomplish its many tasks in large part because of a soft cushion of cartilage in between each vertebra which acts as padding to absorb the pressures of everyday movement.
It is because of these soft, oval “discs" that the lumbar spine (in the lower back) is capable of supporting much of the body weight and the cervical spine (in the neck) can support and move the head. However, like every other part of the body, intervertebral discs are prone to wear and tear. As the discs degenerate, they can bulge, slip, or even rupture and herniate.
If the discs herniate, there is a risk they will apply pressure or pinch the neighboring nerve roots and spinal cord, which can signal pain or interrupt signals being sent back and forth from the brain to the rest of the body.
There are three main types of herniated discs:
• Lumbar herniated discs. Between the 5 -6 vertebrae in the lower back
• Cervical herniated discs. Between the 7 vertebrae in the neck
• Thoracic herniated discs. Between the 12 vertebrae in the middle back
A lumbar herniated disc can obviously cause lower back pain, but it also can be the source for tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the lower extremities as well.
A herniated disc in the cervical spine (the neck) is also a relatively common occurrence. As the support center and pivoting point for the head and the source of many nerve roots for the arms and hands, the cervical spine is prone to disc damage.
A thoracic herniated disc is the most infrequent of the three. The 12 vertebrae of the cervical spine are attached to the ribcage and do not have the range of motion of the lumbar and cervical spines. However, a thoracic herniated disc is certainly still possible and can be the cause of pain throughout the upper back and torso.
In most cases of a herniated cervical disc protrude on the side of the spinal passage and will impinge upon the nerve root. If the nerve roots space is compromised due to bone spurs or the collapse of the disc space, the impingement added to the disc can irritate the nerve root thus causing arm pain. If the nerve root is not compromised, the temporary pain in the arm may be relieved by conventional treatments available from your pharmacy.
A herniated cervical disc normally requires basic conservative treatments such as rest and light physical rehabilitation, surgery is the last option and reserved only for severe cases of a herniated cervical disc when all other avenues of treatment have been exhausted.
If chronic pain persists for a period longer than two weeks, oral steroids should be taken to combat the symptoms. Oral sedatives can be taken for extreme pain but only for a few days or a maximum of two weeks. Any form of steroid treatment needs to be monitored and regulated by your doctor.
When pain persists, conservative treatments can be taken in the form of physical therapy, epidural injection, CT, MRI or surgery.
MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton, Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.