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.

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

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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UCSF Clinics & Centers

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400 Parnassus Ave., Third Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143-0332
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