Herniated discs usually occur in the lower back, but they may also occur in the cervical spine. This segment of the spine runs along the neck and curves inward. Cervical herniated discs can occur due to injury, postural dysfunction or the wearing down of disc material with age.
Vertebrae are named by the first letter of the segment they are located in and the number of their order; the topmost cervical vertebra is C1, while the lowest is C7. According to Spine-Health.com, the two levels at which cervical herniation most commonly occurs are C5-C6 and C6-C7. The names of the nerve roots affected are C6 and C7 respectively. Herniation may also occur at other levels.
The most common symptoms of cervical herniation are neck pain along with pain, weakness, tingling and/or numbness along the affected nerve’s pathway, which usually extends down the arm. The spinal cord runs behind the cervical bones and discs. Nerve pain occurs when the bulge of a disc or its inner fluids irritate spinal nerves.
Conventional treatment of disc herniation generally includes medication to dull pain, physical therapy to increase function and, in the worst case, surgery.
Medications can help reduce painful inflammation and make it easier to get through your day, but it is important to keep in mind that they aren’t resolving the cause of your pain. Physical therapy is a proactive approach to resolving neck pain from a herniated disc. Strong muscles and ligaments in the neck will take pressure off the spine and, therefore, the affected disc. Physical therapy can also help to stretch tight muscles in the neck, reducing the compression of the spine. Surgery for disc herniation is usually unnecessary and always expensive. Surgery also comes with risks, such as damage to the spinal cord, cutting of the many veins that run through the neck, trachea or esophagus damage, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, failure of fusion and lack of pain relief.
Another less common but potentially helpful herniated disc treatment is traction. Traction involves the use of a gentle force to elongate the cervical spine, pulling vertebrae apart and, over time, allowing the affected disc to re-expand and absorb any lost fluids. There are a number of different devices for neck traction. Some are very odd-looking, with a holster for your head on one end and a hooking device on the other that allows you to hang it on a door; this type of device pulls the neck upward. Other collar-type devices are available with a pump that allows you to control the amount of traction. The collars have the advantage of being portable.
Cervical decompression therapy may be sought from a chiropractor. Decompression operates on the same principle as traction, but decompression machines assess your body’s reaction to the pulling force. When bones are pulled apart, it is common for muscles to react by tensing up to protect the body from overstretching. Decompression machines measure the body’s response, applying force slowly and gently to both ensure the effectiveness of the treatment and protect against muscle strain. Decompression treatments aren’t generally covered by insurance and require a number of trips to the chiropractor. This should be considered when deciding between traction and decompression treatments.
Natural pain treatments are available to those with cervical disc herniation. Educate yourself about options to be sure your treatment is thorough.