What Does A Herniated Disc Feel Like?

"What Does A Herniated Disc In The Neck Feel Like?"
by Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki

So a disc herniation in the neck can feel like a number of different things. Typically, there's a lot of pain involved. When an acute disc herniation happens, suddenly patients will typically experience severe pain on one side of the neck or another. That can be associated with muscle spasms, the pain of moving the neck, and they feel like the neck is really stiff and they just can't move their head without severe pain. That's one of the things that I commonly see.

A lot of times you'll have associated pain, which is shooting down one arm or another, usually on the side of the disc herniation. So usually a disc herniation is off to one side. So say for if it's on the right arm, you may get searing electrical shooting pain down the arm, sometimes all the way into the hand. That can also be associated with numbness, tingling, pins, and needles sensation. Weakness can also be experienced. So you may have trouble picking things up or you notice your arm feels heavy, which is not normal.

A lot of patients will also have pain that shoots down in the shoulder blades. So from the neck down into the inside border of the scapula, the shoulder blade will get severe pain there also with spasms. And those are the common symptoms that I find. And it depends on the level of the disc herniation. So higher up in the neck, C-4, C-5, C-6, you'll typically get symptoms higher up in the shoulder. Lower down in the neck at C-6 or C-7 you may even get some armpit pain radiating around into the chest. And sometimes if it's on the left side, people may think they're having a heart attack. I've had patients where they went to the emergency room, though they were having a heart attack, and that all was fine. And it turns out they had a severe disc herniation causing the chest pain. So those are some of the common symptoms. But not everyone is the same. Some people have more neck pain, less arm pain. Other people have only arm pain and less neck pain and everything in between.

And a lot of times, one of the classic findings that I see is patients that have a disc herniation in the neck. If they raise their arm up, put it behind their head, that will often relieve the neck and the arm pain. So that's a telltale sign. If you can do this and the pain down the arm goes away, it's probably a herniated disc in the neck.

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Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki