Your cervical discs help you move, twist and bend your neck, but over the years all this stress and the natural aging process can take its toll. When this happens, pain in your neck can become a real pain in the neck! With that in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at some of the most common cervical spinal disc problems that can develop and the treatment techniques we use to correct them.
Cervical Spine Anatomy
Your cervical spine consists of seven vertebral segments which are separated by spinal discs. These discs are filled with a gel-like substance that helps to stabilize the neck while also helping to facilitate movement. However, because they handle the stress from the weight of our head and the movements we make, it’s not uncommon for them to slowly break down over time. This is known as cervical degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease is a natural process that occurs as we age, but other factors like posture, injuries and stress can speed up the process. The loss of spinal disc height that occurs during disc degeneration means that vertebral segments can shift more easily and compress nearby nerves. It can also lead to more pressure on the disc itself, leading to a bulging or herniated spinal disc.
If your cervical spinal discs lose their natural height or shift out of place, uncomfortable symptoms can develop. The most common symptoms are pain, numbness, arm and muscle weakness, limited range of motion in the neck and pain that worsens when you move your neck in certain positions.
Diagnosing & Treating Cervical Disc Issues
If you’ve begun to experience symptoms in your neck that last for more than just a day, consider setting up an appointment with a spinal specialist like Dr. Jackman. He’ll consult your medical records, talk to you about your symptoms and daily activities and ask you to perform some functional tests to see if symptoms develop when you move your head and neck in certain directions. Other tests may also help to determine if your arm or grip strength are affected by the issue in your neck. Finally, the doctor may order imaging tests to better visualize the area or to rule out other potential issues.
Degenerative disc disease and a related condition like a bulging or herniated cervical disc are oftentimes treated in similar ways. In most instances, your spine specialist will recommend a course of non-operative treatment before surgery is ever considered. And in many instances, conservative care can provide full or significant symptom relief.
For most patients, treatment will begin with a combination or rest, anti-inflammatory medications or pain relievers and physical therapy. Rest and medications can help decrease symptoms in the short-term, which will make it easier to pursue physical therapy, which provides more long-term benefits and addresses the underlying issue. Most patients see enough improvement to avoid surgery, especially when these techniques are paired with posture improvements.
Surgical Treatment Options for Cervical Disc Problems
In rare cases, surgery may become necessary if conservative care fails to provide relief. In these cases, a discectomy is typically ordered in order to remove part or all of the offending disc. The disc is removed and either an artificial disc is inserted, or the area is fused with a bone graft and hardware. Your doctor can walk you through your options and explain which procedure may be right for you based on your individual needs and circumstances.
So, if you are dealing with neck pain that has become more persistent in recent months, or you’ve noticed that your neck is becoming stiff and sometimes uncomfortable, reach out to Dr. Jackman for assistance. He’s confident that he can help find a solution to your neck pain. For more information, contact his clinic today.