How Serious Is A Herniated Disc In The Neck?

Before delving into how serious a herniated disk is, it is important to understand its brass tacks - what is it? Its causes and symptoms.

Your neck contains intervertebral discs, which are the tissues in between the bones called vertebrae. These discs comprise an outer ring and an internal softer jelly-like tissue.

The herniated disk, also referred to as 'slipped disc' or 'ruptured disk' in some quotas, refers to a condition where the nucleus, the internal soft center fluids, escapes through a crack in the annulus, the exterior rubber-like hardened cushion.

Once the internal fluid leaks through the tear, it affects the surrounding nerves affecting your body performance.

A herniated disc can occur on any part of the spine, from the neck to the lower back region.

What Causes Disc Herniation?

Several factors could lead to a herniated disk:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Smoking
  • Weight

1. Age

Due to wear and tear as you age, the discs on your spine gradually lose water, making them more rigid. The reduced flexibility means that when you twist or move swiftly, chances are, you could tear the disk.

2. Genetics

Herniation has been found to run through families. This means if you come from a family with a history of disk herniation, you should seek treatment options early enough.

To avoid genetic herniation, avoid physical activities that could strain your vertebrae as it could aggravate your chances of disk degeneration leading to herniation.

3. Weight

Being overweight puts pressure on your lumbar spine making your discs wear out faster. As they wear out, there are higher chances of a tear on the annulus fibrosis, which releases the nucleus pulposus that act as shock absorbers for the spine. The nucleus pulposus lands on the nerve roots causing pain.

Observe that you don't strain your spinal cord through strenuous physical movements to minimize the risk of a herniated disk when having a weight problem.

4. Smoking

Research has shown that smoking aggravates the risk of suffering from a herniated disk. Through smoking, you deprive your body of enough oxygen, which in turn puts pressure on your spine, leading to a tear on the disks.

Herniated Disc Symptoms

The signs of a herniated disc may differ from one person to the other, but the most common ones include:

  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling of your arms that may spread to your fingers
  • Pain numbness or weakness that runs down your bones and back muscles to the legs
  • Weak hands even when handling simple tasks
  • Stumbling
  • Back pain
  • Arm pain
  • Loss of body balance
  • Weak bladder control

People suffering from a lumbar disc herniation may not immediately associate their pain with a herniated disc. The reason being, the progression rate of the symptoms is gradual in some people.

If you experience any symptoms, the best approach would be to visit your doctor for evaluation.

Disc Herniation Diagnosis

Your doctor will carry out several tests in diagnosing the herniated disk. But, first, the health provider will evaluate your physical response by testing:

  • Muscle weakness and reflexes
  • Leg Pain levels
  • Sensory response
  • Body balance
  • Walking style

Additionally, the doctor will order further internal evaluation procedures to assess the level of nerve damage. The tests may include:

  • Imaging studies
  • X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • Myelogram
  • Electromyogram
  • MRI

The essence of these tests is to verify how far the herniated discs have spread to ensure the right pain management strategy is recommended.

Most doctors use X-rays given their accuracy in diagnosis, and it helps eliminate other possible causes of the pain.

A Computed Tomography (CT Scan) test gives the doctor a clear picture of if the herniated disk moves and is not clearly visible due to nerve compression.

The Electromyogram test will involve your health provider placing some sharp needles on your different muscles to evaluate the spinal nerve that the herniated discs have affected.

A Myelogram test calls for injections of a special dye through X-ray guidance. Using the dye helps in establishing a narrowed spine canal which reveals the location of the herniated disk.

As a patient, you should cooperate and adhere to all the doctor's instructions during these tests. In addition, the faster location of the herniated disk will assist the provider in knowing the easy and fast treatment to apply to you.

The Best Treatment of a Herniated Disk on the Neck

Depending on the extent of the nerve root damage, your doctor has several options in treating the disk. They include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory relievers
  • Spinal cord injections
  • Disc surgery

The pain medication the provider recommends aims at getting the spinal nerves fully functional fast to avoid further damage to the disc material.

Either of these treatment procedures or a combination of several may work and resolve the herniated disk problem depending on the extent of the damage.

For instance, physical therapy is meant to loosen your muscles and improve circulation by relieving the pressure on your spinal canal through exercises.

The cervical spine injection is meant to offer pain relief by reducing the inflammation of the affected nerve. In addition, the swelling is minimized by injecting steroids on the patient, which allows a faster response to medication.

The anti-inflammatory medication includes muscle relaxers meant to ease your leg pain and numbness caused by annulus fibrosis tear.

Only under severe cases will a doctor call for disc surgery. Mostly, decompression surgery will be carried out when it's an emergency to relieve the nerves pressure or when all other options have failed.

So now,

How serious is a Herniated Disk?

Very serious. Why?

If left untreated, it can alter your body performance as it affects the nervous system, causing numbness, making it hard for you to lift the simplest objects, and affecting your mobility.

However, early detection and treatment can prevent the herniated disk from affecting your daily life operations, and you can prevent it from occurring.

How to Avoid a Herniated Disk

  • Exercise frequently
  • Control your weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain a good posture
  • Stretch regularly if you normally sit for long hours
  • Visit your provider in case of back pain for proper health information

Symptoms of herniated discs vary from one individual to another; the best approach to pain in any of your body part is that you don't self-diagnose. Instead, seek medical attention for professional help.

What Our Doctors Have To Say About How Serious A Hernaited Disc Can Be


Dr. J. Alex Sielatychi