Guide to a C5–C6 disc herniation

The first seven vertebrae of the spine are considered the cervical spine (neck) and have the responsibility of supporting and stabilizing the movement of the head. In between each set of vertebrae in the spine is a round disc filled with gel-like fluid. These discs offer support to the vertebrae and cushion any vertebrae movement to prevent the vertebra from rubbing against each other and deteriorating.

Over time, the discs may begin to slowly deteriorate after years of support and compression from the surrounding vertebra. One of the susceptible discs in the spine is located between the C5–C6 vertebrae. When this disc becomes squeezed under the pressure of continual friction from the C5 and C6 vertebrae, the disc may begin to flatten, causing strain on the outer layer of the disc. If the disc becomes too compressed, the outer layer may split open, or herniate, allowing the inner disc fluid to spill into the spinal canal.

If you have a herniated disc in the C5–C6 region of the spine, you may not be aware that there is damage to your spine. Many people who have a herniated disc do not realize that a spine condition has developed because many spine conditions are not symptomatic of themselves. However, if the herniated disc impacts a nerve root in the spinal canal, you may experience symptoms of localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness or weakness.

Areas of the body affected by C5–C6 disc herniation

Nerve roots near the cervical spine send pain and muscle signals between the cervical spine, brain and shoulder, as well as the associated arm and hand. When the C5 or C6 nerve roots become compressed, symptoms can appear along the length of a number of associated nerves, including:

  • The median nerve — innervates the shoulders and arms (carpal tunnel)
  • The suprascapular nerve — leads to the supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles (back of the shoulder)
  • The long thoracic nerve — is associated with the serratus anterior (ribs and the scapula)
  • The dorsal scapular nerve — innervates the rhomboid muscles
  • The subclavian nerve — provides sensory and motor signals to the subclavius muscle (rotator cuff)
  • The musculocutaneous nerve — sends messages to the muscles used in elbow flexion; allows for sensory transmission in the lateral forearm
  • The axillary nerve — innervates the armpit muscles

Treatment for a C5–C6 disc herniation

Many patients diagnosed with a C5–C6 herniated disc can find lasting pain relief through conservative methods of treatment, such as physical therapy, yoga and pain medication. There are several options for conservative, nonsurgical treatment, so you may want to consult your doctor to determine the best course of action to fit your needs.

Conservative treatment generally takes several months before you can accurately measure the effectiveness of the treatment for pain relief. If you have undergone conservative treatment for several months or years and your pain has not decreased, you may want to consult your physician or spine care specialist about the surgical treatment options available to you.

Before considering traditional open neck surgery, we encourage you to research the advantages of minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute. We offer a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck surgery and our treatments have earned a patient satisfaction score of 96.^ Take the next step toward pain relief by finding out if you are a candidate for our outpatient procedures today.

To learn more about the surgery options available to you or to discuss your no-cost MRI review,* please contact our dedicated team at Laser Spine Institute.