A cervical herniated disc is a typical cause of pain in the arm, shoulder, and neck. Its symptoms may be any of the following: dull or intense pain between your shoulder blades or in your neck; pain that extends down your arm to your hand or your fingers; and numbness or a tingling sensation in the arm or shoulder. Specific neck movements or positions can also make the pain worse.
A cervical herniated disc is a result of the cracking of the outer layer of the disc (annulus), which allows the jelly-like substance at the center of the disc to leak out and create a bulge. A cervical herniated disc does not always cause symptoms. In fact, some patients find out that they have it only after an x-ray test for a different medical reason.
But usually, a person with a cervical herniated disc will experience symptoms that will prompt them to see a doctor.
If this is true in your case, you can expect that a visit to your doctor will include a physical examination, neurological examination, medical history review, evaluation of your symptoms and review of the treatments and medication that you may have previously tried. The doctor may also ask you to get an x-ray to determine other possible causes of back pain like osteoarthritis. Additionally, the doctor may also request that you obtain a CT scan or MRI scan to locate the cervical herniated disc and identify the extent of damage. A myelogram may also be necessary.
If the doctor verifies that you do have a cervical herniated disc, note that most cases do not require surgical treatment. Your doctor will initially recommend the application of cold and heat therapy as well as prescribe medications to stop inflammation, calm the muscles or relieve pain. Additionally, your doctor may recommend that you undergo physical therapy under the guidance of a qualified physical therapist. Some physical therapy methods include stretching, gentle massage, neck traction, and ice/heat therapy.
Most patients who suffer from a cervical herniated disc find that after four up to six weeks of the above conservative treatments relieve their symptoms successfully. So if you have just been diagnosed with a cervical herniated disc, be positive about treatment and just remember that surgery is necessary in only a small percentage of cases.
Nevertheless, you need to be prepared for surgery, which will be an option if conservative treatments do not work or if your doctor suspects that there is compression in your spinal cord. If your doctor or an experienced surgeon recommends surgery, make sure that you understand why it has to be performed and what you can expect from it. Spinal surgery is an extremely delicate procedure so always seek a second expert opinion.