The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae in the neck separated from one another by discs, which provide cushioning between the bones. These discs can degenerate because of disc disease or through normal wear and tear over decades, or they can be injured suddenly. Cervical herniated discs from these causes are common conditions treated by spine specialists, according to SpineHealth.com. The herniated disc presses on or pinches a cervical nerve, causing different types of symptoms.
In general, symptoms of a cervical disc injury include sharp pain or dull aching in the neck, between the shoulder blades and in the arm, sometimes down to the fingers. Certain movements of the neck can aggravate the pain. Sometimes the patient feels numbness or tingling in the arm. People often confuse cervical disc herniation with other disorders, such as rotator cuff injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Most Common Injuries
Cervical spine levels are identified by number. The two most common cervical disc injuries affect C6 and C7 nerve roots. Disc injury affecting the C6 nerve root can lead to weakness in the biceps and wrist, along with numbness, tingling or prickling, and pain radiating to the thumb. Disc injury affecting the C7 nerve root can cause pain, weakness, tingling or prickling, and numbness in the triceps (muscles in back of the upper arm and forearm) radiating down to the hand.
Other Possible Injuries
Cervical disc injury also can affect the C5 and C8 nerve roots. Injuries affecting the C5 nerve root can cause shoulder pain and weakness in the back muscle of the upper arm, while injury to the C8 nerve root can cause numbness, tingling and pain radiating down the arm to the little finger. When the C8 nerve root is affected, the person may notice weakness when trying to grip an object with his hand.
Spinal Cord Compression
A cervical herniated disc may result in compression of the spinal cord, a more serious condition. Symptoms might include an awkward gait, difficulty using the hands for fine motor skills, such as buttoning a shirt or writing, and tingling sensations down the torso that may spread into the legs.
A cervical herniated disc usually does not require surgery for recovery. A physician may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen to relieve pain, along with physical therapy. Physical therapy may involve mild stretching and other exercise, heat, massage, ultrasound and low-weight traction.