Herniated Disc in Neck

By Jay Herrera, DPT
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close up of man suffering from herniated disc in neck

What is it?

A herniated disc in the neck is when the material between the intervertebral disc (called Nucleus Pulposus) breaks through the outer lining or ring material (called Annulus Fibrosis) that helps to make up the core between the vertebra that provides shock absorption for the spine.

When this material seeps its way into the structural space outside of the “the ring”, it can cause problems that can include pain, poor mechanical function, poor muscle activity, neurological problems, just to name a few.

Usually the herniations happen posteriorly or backwards toward rear of the spine. This is where the spinal cord and its nerve branches exist. The herniated disc can lead to inflammation in that area. Or pressure on the spinal joints or spinal cord / nerve branches. This is turn can lead to pain and or problems with movement like turning the head or even standing up.

What Are The Treatment Options for a Herniated Disc in your Neck?

In the initial stage of elevated pain and difficulty with movement the main objective is to try and control and limit any inflammation that is most likely present in the affected region in the neck.

If your physician has approved NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs) like Advil® or Aleve®, then these can help your body control possible inflammatory response.

Other conservative procedures can include warm compresses to the tight muscles of the neck which can help reduce pressure on the neck vertebra.

Ice pack can be used specifically for the vertebrae sites that are tender and painful.

You may need to seek medical attention to rule out any severe nerve injury or impingement (pinching off) which can lead to more severe problems such as sensation or movement control problems to the neck, arms and even below into the trunk or legs.

If emergency medical assessment doesn’t require more intense management like surgery, then you may benefit from Physical Therapy or Chiropractic management to assist you in helping to control pain, inflammation, improve joint range of motion and muscle function.

Clinic or home procedures that may help is gentle mechanical traction which your healthcare provider can help direct you on implementation and use of such a method.

Cold laser therapy (low level laser therapy)  can be a very effective procedure to help control inflammation and improve muscle function thereby reducing pain.

Soft tissue massage can also help control pressure brought on my excessive muscle tension.

What Can You expect with Herniated Disc in your Neck?

In the early stage of this condition (initial 1-2 weeks) controlling pain and inflammation is vital.

From 2+ weeks and beyond, it is important to improve joint and muscle function as possible progressing to a normal state of function as soon as possible to prevent any long term dysfunction.

As the inflammation, any nerve pressure and muscle tension subsides, you will feel less pain and be able to move more normal. Improving your neck stability via stabilization exercises may be helpful for long term management of the underlying herniation condition which can have episodes of worsening symptoms.