A cervical disc extrusion is a condition that develops in the cervical (neck) region of the spine. It involves a ruptured intervertebral disc, which means the inner material of the disk has broken through the outer wall and has entered the spinal canal. Typically, disc extrusions in the neck occur between the fifth and sixth (C5/C6) or sixth and seventh (C6/C7) cervical vertebrae.
How an Extrusion Happens
In some cases, a cervical disc extrusion occurs due to the degeneration of cartilage that makes up the disc. The discs of cartilage in our spine are normally saturated with water to maintain their spongy, shock-absorbing qualities. Over time, the cartilage begins to break down and lose water, making it more susceptible to damage. The strong outer wall of the disc (annulus fibrosus) is more likely to bulge or tear at this point, which could lead to the disc’s gelatinous inner material (nucleus pulposus) seeping out. Extrusion occurs when the inner material leaks out of a crack in the annulus fibrosus and enters the spinal canal. In addition to age-related degeneration, traumatic injury, obesity, smoking tobacco, and genetics can all lead to disc extrusions.
A cervical disc extrusion may never cause symptoms to develop. Pain usually will manifest only if the disc material impinges upon the spinal cord or a nerve root. If this impingement occurs in the upper (cervical) spine, it can cause shooting pains radiating from the point of compression, as well as other symptoms like tingling, weakness, numbness, and spasms in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
Your doctor may suggest several conservative (non-surgical) methods to initially treat a cervical disc extrusion. Pain medication may be the first step. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be purchased over-the-counter or prescribed, depending on your level of pain. These medications work to kill pain as well as help reduce inflammation of soft tissues close to the impinged spinal cord or nerve root. Similarly, applying an ice pack or a cold compress to the affected area can also help calm inflamed tissues and numb pain. Muscle relaxants or opioids may also be prescribed. Additionally, physical therapy might be recommended to begin strengthening the muscles around the disc extrusion.
If you’ve tried conservative treatments and are still living with pain from a disc extrusion or another spinal condition, contact Laser Spine Institute today. Our orthopedic experts can provide you with a free MRI or CT scan review and tell you more about our safe and effective outpatient procedures.