If pain in the neck is being a real “pain in the neck,” you’re not alone. Millions of Americans deal with acute or chronic neck pain on a daily basis. Between physical activity, poor posture and natural degeneration as we get older, it should come as no surprise that cervical spinal discs can become damaged over the years.
If the pressure on the disc becomes too much, it can herniate, causing localized and shooting pain. Below, we take a closer look at how cervical herniated discs are diagnosed and treated.
We’re beginning to see more herniated discs in the neck at our clinic, and it seems likely that “tech neck” is playing a role in its onset. Now more than ever, people are craning their heads forward to look at their phone or to type at their workstation. When your body isn’t in a natural alignment, stress tends to be channeled to two locations – your lumbar and cervical spine. Over time, poor posture can lead to bulging and herniated discs.
If you’re dealing with pain in the neck, consider setting up an appointment with a specialist. Herniated discs can happen acutely as a result of physical trauma, or they can slowly develop over time as the disc health gradually wears down. Herniated discs can also be difficult to self-diagnose because symptoms tend to vary from patient to patient. Some patients have intense neck pain, pain that radiates down the arm or leg, stiffness, range of motion limitations or sharp pains when turning the head in one direction. Others have little or no symptoms at all, but the herniated disc can still be a threat to other soft tissues in the neck.
During the diagnostic stage, a doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and review your medical history. They will also ask you to perform certain movements to see if symptoms persist or alleviate. Finally, they’ll likely confirm your diagnosis with imaging tests like an X-Ray, MRI or CT scan. These imaging tests can not only identify that a herniation exists, but it can also tell doctors exactly which disc in the cervical spine is affected.
Treatment depends on a number of different factors, including the location of the herniation, symptom prevalence, and the extent of the damage. For those with minor or mild symptoms, watchful waiting and posture improvements may be all that is necessary to keep symptoms under control.
For those with more intense symptoms, active treatment options are recommended. Pain medications and steroid injections can help control discomfort, but it won’t treat the underlying issue. More direct treatment in the form of physical therapy, targeted strengthening exercises and simple stretching techniques have all proven beneficial. Sticking with a therapy plan and minding your posture on a daily basis can help you alleviate pain caused by a cervical herniated disc.
If conservative treatment fails, a more hands-on approach may be necessary. Surgery can be used to remove part of the offending disc and strengthen the stability of the vertebral column. Any operation will also be paired with post-op rehabilitative therapy, which involves many of the conservative treatments we spoke of above. Dr. Chang has performed countless discectomy and fusion procedures to address cervical herniated discs, and he’d be more than happy to walk you through the process and get you back to a pain free way of living. For more information or for help with your neck pain, reach out to his clinic today.