skip to main content

Main Site Navigation

Top of main content

What Is Cervical Disc Syndrome?

The neck (cervical) part of the spinal column is made of seven bones (vertebrae) separated by pillow-like discs. These discs are like shock absorbers for the head and neck. They cushion the bones and allow the head and neck to bend. Cervical disc syndrome refers to pain in this neck part of the spine.

What Causes Cervical Disc Syndrome?

Many causes include normal degenerative changes in discs with aging. Poor posture and strenuous work with poor lifting methods may make these changes worse. The discs slowly become worn, less plump, and flat. When the disc space becomes narrow enough that vertebrae rub together, edges of the vertebrae have wear-and-tear changes. Then, bone spurs develop that may start to press on the spinal cord or nerve root. As the nerve is irritated, pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness can occur.

Similar changes or trauma may burst the tough cartilage around each disc. Disc material may bulge (herniate) into the spinal canal and press on (compress) the spinal cord or nerve root.

What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Disc Syndrome?

Neck pain or tingling and numbness may reach the shoulder, upper back, arm, or hand. Some people have weakness, clumsiness, and trouble walking. Pain from a bulging disc is worse during movement and during coughing or laughing.

How Is Cervical Disc Syndrome Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis from a physical examination and x-rays of the cervical spine. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the neck and electromyography or nerve conduction velocity test (EMG/NCV), an electrical test of nerves and muscles, may also be done.

How Is Cervical Disc Syndrome Treated?

Most cases can be treated with physical therapy, pain control, and antiinflammatory drugs. Specialists (orthopedic surgeon, anesthesiologist, or neurosurgeon) may help with treatment. Conservative treatments can also be done by a physical therapist. These include local heat placed on the area, cervical traction, and special exercises.

Anesthesiologists can inject steroids and anesthetic medicine into the cervical spinal canal to help pain.

Symptoms often go away after few weeks. Surgery is usually the final option if other treatments don’t relieve symptoms.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Cervical Disc Syndrome:

  • DO use good posture while sitting and walking.
  • DO always wear a seat belt when traveling in a motor vehicle.
  • DO put a pillow under your head and neck when lying in bed.
  • DO daily exercises approved by your health care provider. Gently stretch and bend your neck. Keep to your ideal weight.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms become much worse or you have new weakness.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have trouble walking, have weakness, cannot move your limbs, or lose control of your bowels or bladder.
  • DO minimize trauma to your cervical spine. Wear protective gear in contact sports.
  • DON’T make a habit of popping your neck.
  • DON’T return to work until your health care provider says you can.
  • DON’T do strenuous activities until you check with your health care provider.
  • DON’T resume driving until you’re pain free without pain medicine.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact the following sources:

  • North American Spine Society
    Tel: (630) 230-3600
    Website: http://www.spine.org
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (847) 823-7186
    Website: http://www.aaos.org

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor