When the intervertebral disc located between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae (C5-C6) leaks gel-like nucleus material into the spinal canal, it is referred to as a disc herniation. This can occur as part of the aging process, when the cartilaginous outer wall of the disc becomes brittle and weakens. Often, people with a herniated cervical disc never realize they have the condition. Only when the extruded disc material begins to irritate, or compress, a nerve root or the spinal cord itself will symptoms such as localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness or weakness occur.
Areas of the body affected by C5-C6 disc herniation
The brachial plexus, a series of nerve fibers that innervate muscles and the skin in the region of the neck, shoulders and arms, originates near the C5-C6 level of the cervical spine. When the C5 or C6 nerve roots become compressed, symptoms can present along the length of a number of associated nerves, including:
• Median nerve – innervates the shoulders, arms (carpal tunnel)
• Suprascapular nerve – leads to the supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles (back of the shoulder)
• Long thoracic nerve – associated with the serratus anterior (ribs and the scapula)
• Dorsal scapular nerve – innervates the rhomboid muscles
• Subclavian nerve – provides sensory and motor signals to the subclavius muscle (rotator cuff)
• Musculocutaneous nerve – sends messages to the muscles used in elbow flexion; allows for sensory transmission in the lateral forearm
• Axillary nerve – innervates the armpit muscles
Treating a C5-C6 disc herniation
More often than not, symptoms associated with a C5-C6 herniated disc can be managed conservatively using pain medication, physical therapy, exercise or other non-surgical methods. However, if chronic symptoms persist after weeks or months of conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the minimally invasive, outpatient alternatives to traditional open spine surgery. Our orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons perform state-of-the-art procedures to help patients find pain relief.