Cervical Herniated Disc – Summary of Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


Excruciating pain. 

That’s how the majority of those suffering from cervical herniated discs recall the experience.  The vertebra of the neck is separated by discs to avoid grinding and abrasion.  When the inner core of these discs herniate, or leak, out of the disc itself and start pressing on a nerve root, trouble and pain quickly ensue. 

Many would think that injury or trauma are the sole cause of cervical herniated discs, and they would be correct, to an extent.  Yes, neck injuries and trauma are legitimate causes, but a lot of times cervical discs would just spontaneously herniate.  That’s right, it can happen out of nowhere.


An overview of a herniated disc


Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms

Shooting arm pain is a result of the cervical nerve being pinched by the inner core that has herniated out of the disc.  Numbness and some tingling also comes along with the radiating pain that runs from the neck down to the shoulder and all the way to the tips of the fingers.  This pinching of the nerve is due to the fact that there just isn’t a lot of space in the neck and even the smallest herniation can impinge a nerve.

Referred pain can often be felt in shoulder, arm, hand or fingers

The cervical region of the spine consists of 7 vertebra and depending on where the impingement takes place the symptoms may differ slightly.  In general, there will be pain, shooting pain through the arm and numbness.  But the exact position and muscles effected will be determined by where the nerve gets pinched in the neck.  For example, an impingement in the area of the C4 and C5 vertebra, where C4 is the fourth vertebra from the base of the skull, leads to the weakening of the deltoid muscle, shoulder pain but surprisingly, little numbness or tingling.  In contrast, a pinch in the area of the C6 and C7 area, one of the most common type of impingements, results in the weakness of the triceps and the muscles that allow your fingers to point.  Shooting pain coupled with numbness will also radiate from the triceps to the tip of the middle finger.  The pain pattern of radiating, shooting pain, down the arm is known as cervical radiculopathy.


Cervical Herniated Disc Diagnosis

There are a handful of methods to determine whether someone is suffering from a cervical herniated disc.  MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computerized tomography) are very popular and effective ways to diagnose cervical hernias.  The bonus is that these techniques are not invasive requiring the patient to merely lie down on a scanning table.  However, a CT scan combined with myelogram requires the patient to be injected with a dye in the spinal canal.  The injection of the dye highlights the impingement, but because it requires sticking a needle into the spinal canal, it is not usually the first choice suggested by the patient or the doctor.


A herniated disc


Another test known as an EMG (electromyography) may be called for which when described sounds like something out of science fiction.  Needles are inserted into muscles of the arms and legs, and by stimulating specific nerves the doctor or technician is able to determine whether those muscles are innervated or not.  The great thing about an EMG, even though it can be considered very invasive, is that it can rule out any false positives such as carpal tunnel, syndrome, ulnar nerve entrapment and other such conditions.

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Cervical Herniated Disc Treatment

While cervical herniated discs do cause a significant amount of pain, the good news is that it is very much treatable.  In general, there are three categories of treatment; medication, non-surgical and surgical.  Often times the situation calls for a combination of two or all three of these forms of treatment to get the patient back in shape.


The majority of the time medication is used to dampen the pain caused by the nerve impingement and the inflammation caused by the herniation of the disc.  NSAIDs, a form of anti-inflammatory medication, is often given to manage the pain and inflammation, however when the pain is so severe that plain old Ibuprofen is deemed ineffective, doctors may prescribe oral steroids to help the patient deal with the pain.

Medication is often one of the first choices of treatment

Also known as conservative treatments, non-surgical treatments aids in pain relief through physical therapy and exercises, such as the Mckenzie exercise to reduce pain in the limbs.  Cervical traction, chiropractic manipulation and osteopathic medicine may also be used to both alleviate pain and return mobility to the neck and limbs.  Of course there are more common sense solutions such as decreasing the amount of stress causing activity whether it be stresses to the cervical region or to the arms.  Finally, using a brace to prevent slumping or leaning of the neck further reduces the stress on the muscles of the neck, but more importantly it may decrease the impingement on the nerve.


Cervical Traction


Surgery is often the most expensive and, psychologically speaking, scariest form of treatment.  However, the majority of the time it is the most effective and longest lasting type of treatment.  There are three types of surgeries that is currently offered to treat cervical herniated discs.  The first of which is known as anterior cervical discectomy and spine fusion, and is thankfully abbreviated to ACDF.  As the name suggests, the process involves removal of the herniated disc and then fusing the two (or more) vertebra in the afflicted area.  The second procedure, posterior cervical discectomy, in considered a very technical procedure, as it requires the access of the herniated disc from the back, and due to the amount of veins in that region of the spine, it may lead to much bleeding.  Finally, there is artificial disc replacement.  The name of the procedure gives away the method of the treatment in that the herniated disc is removed and is replaced with a synthetic disc with the intent of mimicking the form and function of the original.


Cervical herniated discs can be excruciatingly painful and can cause a person much discomfort.  Fortunately, with perseverance, there are ways for it to be diagnosed and treated.

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9 Replies to “Cervical Herniated Disc – Summary of Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  1. I don’t have a herniated disc in my cervical spine but I have been living with the chronic pain of a thoracic herniated disk for years and the pain can be terrible. I can’t imagine the pain a herniated disk up in my neck would feel like and the radiating out into my arms would drive my crazy! I’m in the process of physical therapy and it helps a lot. I’m trying to avoid things like cortisone shots and/or surgery.

    1. It’s terrible Everyone of my cervical discs are herniated one is really bad and pinching on a nerve my neurosurgeon says oh it’s not that bad he’s not the one who plays with the pain down both of my arms can’t use my arms can’t use my one hand and he don’t want to do surgery I’m seeking another neurosurgeon for a second opinion because I can’t stand the pain I think I’ve tried every single drug out there for nerve pain for pain nothing is working I’ve been dealing with this for a year and a half and I keep telling him I can’t do it anymore and he won’t listen it’s time to head for a new doctor

      1. Hello, my c1/2 makes me completely miserable. I have a soft gel neck ice pack & I have a comfort trac neck traction device. I ice 20min & get on the traction (on top of yoga mat) & I can get it to suck back in by going up to 30lbs bk down to 20lbs & I pump it up & down for 10 min or so a few times/day. I am drug free & injection free & manage my pain like this. Hope this info helps!

  2. My mom has two herniated disks in her back, and the doctors originally told her that she would never be able to exercise as much as she used to, (hiking, pilates, etc.) but through going to a chiropractor and working on it, she hikes or goes to a fitness class almost every day and as long as she gets adjusted every so often, she’s fine. You definitely can get better!

  3. I don’t have herniated discs in my cervical spine but my father does and he has unfortunately had the operation to have C4,C5,C6 fused together. He has managed to get back quite a lot of movement and a good range of motion. I think this is due to his diligence with rehab and pilates. Rehab is the way!

  4. I have those shooting pains, that have gotten worse over the years, that was diagnosed at the time as tendonitis. From the symptoms you listed, I may need to go see another doctor and find out if a herniated disc is what I have. Great, informative post.

  5. Hello, Nice post to share and read. I totally agree with your post.

    Sometimes stretching and exercise can also relieve your back aches if you perform the precise stretches and exercises at the appropriate time and in the accurate order.
    Yoga and body workout treatments may aid with such problems as pain, discomfort and stiffness relating to the joints and bones.

  6. Good information and very relevant to me. I have been taking anti-inflammatories and painkillers for quite a while now. I think I need to try more non-surgical treatments as sometimes the pain can be quite excruciating!

  7. The pain can flare up quite regularly traveling down my arm even into my hands. The pain is hard to describe very sharp but makes my arm numb. Is there a specific non-surgical treatment you would recommend to help relieve some of this pain?

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