Cervical Disc Pain

Back Surgery Information

Cervical Disc Pain

Most people, at some point in their lives will suffer pain in the neck, shoulder or arm. A common cause of such pain is a herniated disc. A herniated disc occurs when the outer-wall of a disc (located between the spinal vertebrae) ruptures and the gel-like substance leaks out putting pressure on spinal nerve roots or canal. The gel-like substance that is released during the rupture may cause irritation to the surrounding nerves resulting in inflammation and pain.

Cervical disc pain may be felt in the neck, between the shoulder blades and may radiate down the arm to the hand and tips of fingers, called radiculopathy. The precise path the pain will take is dependent on what level the herniation has occurred as each part of the arm is innervated by a different cervical nerve branch. The most common levels to herniate in the cervical spine are two, cervical 5 and cervical 6 (C5-C6) and the cervical 6 and cervical 7 (C6-C7) followed by the C4-C5 level. The C7-T1 level rarely herniates.

The cervical disc herniation affects the nerve exiting the spine at that level, that is, at the C6-C7 level it is the C7 nerve root that is affected.

Cervical disc pain may be dull or sharp and moving the neck in certain positions may increase or decrease the amount of pain one experiences. It is often associated with numbness or a tingling sensation in the shoulder or arm as well as muscle spasms and/or weakness.

Cervical disc pain is just one symptom of cervical disc herniation and sometimes there are no symptoms at all. In cases where the herniation causes spinal cord compression it may produce more serious symptoms in the entire torso or legs.

Most of the time cervical disc pain can be controlled with anti-inflammatory pain medication that reduces swelling and pain, narcotic pain killers to ease acute pain and muscle relaxants to calm spasms. Other conservative, non-surgical treatments include heat/cold therapy which is most effective during the first 24-48 hours and physical therapy and home exercises such as stretching, gentle massage, neck traction or bracing, hydrotherapy and chiropractic care.

Most often cervical disc pain improves within a few days and completely resolves in about 4 to six weeks if the patient will stay at home and give their herniated disc the rest it needs. Restricting activity, taking over the counter medication and cold/heat therapy helps in the recovery process. The majority of people with cervical disc pain will improve and return to their normal activities within 6 weeks. However, surgery may be recommended by your doctor if there is no response to conservative treatment or if the herniated disc symptoms worsen.

Factors the doctor considers before recommending surgery include the patient’s age, the patient’s health, how long the problem has been going on, other medical problems, expected surgery outcomes and any previous neck surgeries. Herniated disc surgery to stop cervical disc pain is always used as a last resort after all other non-invasive treatments have failed.