Herniated Cervical Disc

Q: What are the symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck and how do chiropractors treat it?

A: Most herniated discs occur in the lower back. The second most common area for discs to herniate is in the neck, which is part of the cervical spine. Herniated discs in the neck may cause pain to shoot into the shoulder, arm and hand. Other symptoms may include numbness or muscle weakness.

Discs are “cushions” of cartilage that separate the spinal bones. They have a tough, fibrous outer layer and a soft, jelly-like center that absorbs the shock of various stresses and strains on the spine. Discs can deteriorate or become injured when the spinal bones that they are attached to become misaligned. In some instances, the misaligned spinal bones force the disc’s inner, jelly-like material to push through a tear or weakening in the outer covering of the disc. This is referred to as a herniated disc. When discs herniate they can cause pain by irritating or damaging the nerves of the spine.

It is prudent to treat the pain associated with herniated discs conservatively unless there is severe functional impairment. The chiropractic approach involves a physical examination, review of your health history and current symptoms along with diagnostic tests such as x-rays or a MRI of the neck. Once the location and severity of the herniated disc is identified, the chiropractor can determine if chiropractic is your best option or if more invasive treatment is necessary.

The objective of chiropractic care is to adjust the misaligned spinal bones in order to minimize the pressure on the discs and eliminate the nerve irritation. Pain should then subside gradually and normal functioning can eventually be restored. The process of rehabilitation generally takes several weeks to months and can include adjustments, physical therapy measures and exercises.

If this conservative treatment fails, surgery becomes a more viable option for people with herniated discs.