A cervical disc herniation can cause a great deal of pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, or upper back. Age is a common contributing factor to changes with spinal discs that typically include a loss of height and shape and a reduction in the water content necessary to retain a disc’s sponginess. However, there are factors other than age that can also cause discs in the neck to become damaged or slip out of place. Here’s what you need to know about preventing and treating cervical disc herniation.
The most effective way to prevent disc damage in the neck area is to have a better understanding of what may affect these spongy structures in the first place. Falls from high places, hard impacts, and whiplash are common causes of disc damage. However, discs in the cervical spine can also become damaged over longer periods due to:
• Poor upper spine/neck posture
• Improper lifting techniques
• Repetitive motions involving the neck (e.g. twisting, turning, bending forward)
• Lack of neck support while sleeping
• Not sufficiently stretching
• Long-term tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption
Use the above causes of cervical disc herniation as a guide for the preventative measures that apply most to you. For instance, if you frequently wake up with neck pain, consider changing to a more supportive mattress, adjusting your sleep positions, or using a lower pillow (or no pillow at all) to retain your head-spine alignment. The discs in your neck may also be less susceptible to damage if you take the following steps:
• Eat green, leafy veggies, oily fish, and other foods that naturally fight inflammation
• Do simple neck stretches if you have to sit or stand in the same position for long periods
• Avoid excessive neck craning while using handheld tech devices
• Maintain proper form when playing sports that place some degree of stress on your neck or upper spine.
If it’s been determined that the source of your neck pain and related symptoms is a herniated cervical disc, you’ll likely be advised to try conservative (non-surgical) treatments first. Recommendations may include gentle neck exercises or stretches, massage therapy, ultrasound, or special techniques designed to reposition displaced discs (McKenzie exercises). Treatment may also involve:
• Cervical traction or bracing
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and other forms of mild electrical stimulation
• Chiropractic manipulation
• Injections directly into the affected area of the neck
• Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), cervical artificial disc replacement, and similar surgical options
Not all instances of neck pain are related to a disc issue. Minor discomfort from overstretched muscles, ligaments, or tendons is often resolved with heat and ice applications, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds, and rest or modification of activities. When such efforts aren’t helping, check with your doctor to see if a damaged disc may be the source of your symptoms. See a Santa Monica spine surgeon as soon as possible if neck pain is severe and sudden or accompanied by numbness, tingling sensations, or weakness extending to the shoulders, arms, and/or hands.
Get in touch with The Spine Institute if you think you might need to undergo a fusion procedure or would like to consider an alternative to spinal fusion surgery. Santa Monica residents can take the first step toward a pain-free life by calling 310-828-7757 today.