Cervical Herniated Disc Conditions

about herniated discs in the neck

Healthy discs between the vertebrae in a person's neck are filled with fluid and provide space between the vertebrae.

When the discs deteriorate, they become thinner, more brittle and bulge out. If the outer lining of the disc tears, everyday activities can cause the fluid to leak out, further narrowing the space between the vertebrae and causing nerve root compression.

Doctors refer to a leaking disc in the neck as a slipped, ruptured, or herniated cervical disc.

Healthy Cervical Disc

Healthy Cervical Disc

Cervical Herniated Disc

Herniated Cervical Disc

Symptoms of Cervical Disc Herniation

When a disc herniates, the leaking fluid may push out against the nearby spinal nerves or the spinal cord. This causes pain, weakness, and numbness in your neck, shoulders, or arms. The pain can vary from dull, aching, and difficult to localise, to sharp, burning, and easy to pinpoint. The type and location of pain and symptoms depend on which disc has herniated and how it is pressing against the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Diagnosis of a Herniated Disc in the Neck

If a person has these symptoms, a doctor will check for a herniated cervical disc by:

  • Gauging the flexibility, strength, and range of motion in the neck, shoulders, and arms
  • Ordering imaging tests such as x-rays, an MRI or a CT (CAT) scan. Regular x-rays show bone; an MRI or CT scan show both bone and soft tissue

An MRI scan shows the location of cervical disc herniation and nerve root compression.  

A CT scan shows the bony anatomy in the cervical spine and the space available for the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Treatment for a Cervical Herniated Disc

Doctors treat cervical disc herniation to relieve pain, weakness, and numbness, all of which can be debilitating.

Nonsurgical treatments. If there is no evidence of nerve root compression with muscle weakness, a doctor may recommend:

  • A soft cervical collar to rest the neck
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Physical therapy

Surgical treatments. If rest, medication, and physical therapy do not help or if tests show spinal cord or nerve root compression, a doctor may advise surgery to lessen pain, weakness, and tingling:

  • Cervical fusion. The surgeon removes the cervical herniated disc and replaces it with a spacer, then fuses the vertebrae on either side of the spacer.
  • Cervical disc replacement. The surgeon removes the herniated disc and replaces it with an artificial cervical disc that preserves motion.

The best treatment depends on the unique situation. Always discuss treatment options with a healthcare professional.