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
Cervical Herniated Disc
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.
If a person has these symptoms, a doctor will check for a herniated cervical disc by:
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.
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:
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:
The best treatment depends on the unique situation. Always discuss treatment options with a healthcare professional.