Cervical Disc Disease, Herniation, and Degeneration
Cervical disc herniation is characterized by a bulge or rupture of the disc material into the spinal canal, which causes abnormal pressure on the nerve at that level, leading to symptoms mainly in the neck and one arm or hand.
Disc Degeneration and Disease
Cervical disc disease is usually caused by degeneration of the disc material, causing a loss of vertebral body height, and placing excess stress on the already weakened disc material. Eventually, this stress can cause an outward bulging of the disc into the spinal canal. Occasionally, the disc material can even rupture through the outer layer of the disc into the spinal canal. Because the front and back of the disc space are reinforced by ligaments, most protrusions occur to either side and press on the nerve instead of the spinal cord, which is why symptoms mainly occur in only one arm.
Symptoms of cervical disc disease include neck and arm pain, which may radiate down into the hand. This pain may be associated with numbness and tingling over the arm and hand, which may feel like it is “asleep”. Additionally, weakness of the hand and arm muscles may develop.
It is important to recognize that the prescence of a disc bulge or protrusion does not necessarily require surgical intervention. Many people who have degenerated or bulging discs that never develop symptoms, and most have only minor symptoms which can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Even those who develop more severe symptoms requiring a visit to their physician can be treated successfully with medication and physical therapy. We work with all of these health care practicioners to choose the treatment option that best meets our patients needs and desires.
If surgery is the best treatment option, there are two basic surgeries, with variations on each depending on circumstances. Surgery from the front of the neck, called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, is appropriate for some types of protrusions. Surgery from the back of the neck, known as posterior foraminotomy and discectomy, is also appropriate for other types of disc disease. There may be an option for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery.
For specific details on each surgery mentioned above, click the appropriate link. For information about what to expect if you are having surgery for this condition at the University of Virginia, click here.
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