If you hear someone say they have a slipped disc in their neck, you might imagine an intervertebral disc that has moved out of place. “Slipped disc” is a bit of a misnomer, as the condition really entails a rupture in the disc’s outer wall (annulus fibrosus). The disc’s inner fluid (nucleus pulposus) may seep through this rupture and extrude into the spinal canal, possibly exerting pressure on a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord. This nerve compression is the primary reason that people experience symptoms from a slipped disc. Common symptoms include pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness that radiates throughout the cervical region of the spine, in addition to the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.
How a Slipped Disc Develops
The pliable yet strong discs that are sandwiched between vertebral bodies can rupture due to a traumatic injury, but the majority of cases occur because the disc has degenerated over a long period of time. Healthy discs are tough, resilient, and highly pressurized so that they can absorb shock, connect adjacent vertebrae, and aid the spine in its many movements. After years of wear and tear, however, the discs begin to deteriorate in the following ways:
- They lose water content
- Their collagen levels decrease
- They become less elastic
- Their height and pressurization diminishes
Due to the above changes, a degenerated disc may develop a tear or fissure in the layers of its annular wall. If the nucleus pulposus does seep through the tear in the outer wall, enzymes can trigger an inflammatory response from tiny nerve fibers in the disc wall and cause localized pain at the site of the slipped disc. As previously mentioned, though, most symptoms are the result of compression of nerve roots within the spinal canal.
Treatments for a Slipped Disc in the Neck
If your doctor diagnoses you with a slipped disc in your neck, finding an effective treatment plan will be the next course of action. Most patients experience relief from their symptoms with a combination of nonsurgical treatments, such as pain medication and physical therapy. In the case of slipped discs that occur due to age-related degeneration, however, it’s important to remember that the discs will continue to deteriorate and you should take steps to maintain your overall health and protect your spine as much as possible, so as to prevent additional disc herniation.
In rare cases, surgery for a slipped disc in the neck may be necessary. If you are considering spine surgery because nonsurgical treatments have proven ineffective, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. We offer minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that are welcome alternatives to highly invasive surgeries. Contact us today to learn more and find out if you are a candidate for an endoscopic spine procedure.