Herniated Disc Is It Serious?

"How Serious Is A Herniated Disc In The Neck?"
by Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki

Herniated disks in the neck can range a spectrum of very serious (causing severe neurologic deficit), even spinal cord effects, (if it's impinging on the spinal cord), that can be a very serious injury or condition. On the other end of the spectrum, it may be just a mild irritation. Some patients may have some neck pain and some arm pain that is not causing any severe weakness or numbness and just some mild discomfort that is alleviated with Tylenol or Advil and some exercise and stretching in that. So it can be very serious. It depends on the symptoms that you have.

As a spine surgeon, typically what alarms me the most is things like severe numbness, severe weakness, inability to lift one arm or another, or even worse, if you have a loss of function in your legs or you can't walk due to severe weakness, that would be something that's indicating a more serious condition.

If it's mostly pain without any numbness or weakness, that can be very debilitating. But typically, pain is not something that I consider to be dangerous that is threatening the spinal cord or the nerves. It can be very bothersome and for a majority of patients that I see most of the time, it's pain that brings them in. Not so much numbness and weakness. But things to watch for in terms of how serious your disc herniation is really would be those findings of numbness, weakness (that's getting worse). Or you're losing the functioning of a hand or your legs. That would be something you should seek help for right away.

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Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki