Herniated Disc in Neck | What is It?
The 24 bones that make up the spine are referred to as vertebral bodies. People generally think of the spine only as the back but it includes the neck as well. The upper portion of your spine, the neck, is referred to as the cervical spine. There are 7 cervical vertebrae. When looked at from the side, the cervical spine is concave. This concavity, this inward curve, is called lordosis.
In between each of the vertebrae in the spine lies an intervertebral disc. These discs are soft and malleable and, among other functions, allow for increased motion of the neck and act as shock absorbers. After an acute trauma, or more commonly a lifetime of poor posture, one of those intervertebral discs may tear a bit or be deformed, causing pain in the neck due to the disc itself being out of place or as happens in more severe cases, the disc ruptures significantly and starts to put pressure on the nerves located in or around the spinal canal.
What Causes a Herniated Disc?
Poor posture is one of the main culprits that may lead to a cervical herniated disc, particularly in an office setting with a poor ergonomic set up at your desk. Having a sedentary job, where the spine has been in a position of poor posture for hours every day, slouching with the head constantly looking down, can be very damaging to the spine. The spine’s natural position looks like a backwards ‘S’ from the side. When you slouch, the lordotic curves of the neck and low back reverse and become kyphotic, making the spine in the shape of a ‘C’ which places unnecessary stress on the discs causing them to become deformed. The inside of the disc is a jelly like substance which is easily molded to the position that the bones are in. If the bones of the spine, the vertebrae, are in a poor position, so will be the discs.
Contrary to having a sedentary job, having a very active job with frequent bending, lifting, pushing and pulling, and turning of the neck can take a toll on your cervical spine if you are not taught proper body mechanics when performing these activities.
A herniated disc in the cervical spine can be no fault of your own however, and be caused by a high impact trauma such as a car accident or a sports-related injury
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Herniated Disc Symptoms
Symptoms of disc herniations of the cervical spine can be misleading as pain directly in the neck does not need to be present. With a cervical ruptured disc, it is very common to experience pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in any location from the upper back, shoulders, arms, and fingers. The symptoms will most likely be experienced on one side of the body but can occur on both. You may also experience stiffness and a significant loss of range of motion of the neck.
If You Are Experiencing Symptoms, Schedule an Appointment Dr. Burke Orthopedics Immediately.
Treatment for a Herniated Disc
Treatment for disc involvement in the neck will usually be successfully treated with physical therapy. Physical therapy will teach you specific, directional movements in the hopes of ‘reducing’ the disc which will place the disc back in its correct position. You will then be instructed in the importance of posture and ergonomic techniques to make for a less aggravating workstation in the case of a sedentary job. These tips include:
- Raising your computer so that it is at the level of your eyes
- Hips should be at an angle of about 100 degrees and feet should be flat on the floor with the knees bent at an angle of 90 degrees or more.
- Don’t cradle a phone between your shoulder and ear. This will stress your neck. Use hands-free options where available.
- Maintaining proper posture throughout your spine (from the low back up to the neck) is the most important thing you can do for the health of your neck.
If conservative treatment fails, surgical intervention may be necessary in order to clean up any disc tissue that is causing problems or possibly remove the disc altogether, called a discectomy.