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Cervical Disc Herniation


The cervical spine consists of the top seven bones of the spine, called vertebrae, located in your neck or the area between your skull and chest. The vertebrae that form the spine are cushioned by discs that act as shock absorbers and keep the spine flexible.

Over time as we age, discs can lose elasticity and ligaments around the discs can become brittle. When damaged, discs may bulge or rupture and cause what's called a herniated or slipped disc. Most herniated discs occur either in the cervical area or lower back called the lumbar spine.

Our approach to cervical disc herniation

UCSF is home to one of the largest centers in the country dedicated to evaluating and treating spinal disorders, such as cervical disc herniation. Patients have access to the most up-to-date diagnostic imaging techniques as well as innovative treatments that are not widely available. Our team includes world-renowned specialists in neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, neurology, pain management, physical therapy, psychiatry, radiology and rheumatology. These experts work together to personalize a plan for each patient.

Initial treatment for cervical disc herniation includes a combination of rest, pain medications, physical therapy and wearing a brace. For the approximately 10 percent of patients who need surgery, our expertise in state-of-the-art surgical repair and rehabilitation results in less time under anesthesia, faster recovery and, ultimately, a better quality of life.

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  • Among the top hospitals in the nation

  • One of the nation's best for orthopedic care

  • Best in the West and No. 3 in the nation for neurology & neurosurgery

Signs & symptoms

When a herniated disc occurs, it puts pressure on spinal nerves or the spinal cord. The first symptom is usually neck pain.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain moving your head and neck, especially turning to the side of the herniated disc
  • Pain in your shoulder or arms
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in your shoulder or arms


Your doctor will check your range of motion in your arms, shoulders and neck. Other tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI provides detailed pictures of the spine that are produced with a powerful magnet linked to a computer
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan uses a thin X-ray beam that rotates around the spine area. A computer processes data to construct a 3-dimensional, cross-sectional image
  • Myelogram. This is an X-ray of your spine taken after a special dye has been injected into the spinal column. It can show pressure on the spinal cord or problems with discs or vertebrae
  • Discography. This test is sometimes used to evaluate back pain in preparation for surgery


Conservative treatment for cervical disc herniation includes:

  • Rest
  • Cervical collar or neck brace
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Steroid medication
  • Physical therapy that may include cervical traction

About 10 percent of cervical herniation patients require surgery. Surgical procedures are available depending on the severity of herniation. They include:

  • Microdiscectomy or removal of the herniated part of the disc.
  • Anterior cervical decompression and fusion in which the disc is removed and the vertebrae are fused together by means of a dowel bone graft, which comes from cadaver bone, between the vertebrae.
  • Cervical endoscopic foramenotomy, with or without discectomy, is a minimally invasive procedure in which the herniated disc material is removed using tiny incisions.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

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