Cervical Disc Herniation – When to Explore Surgical Options

So, your doctor diagnosed you with a cervical disc herniation, but now what happens? You realize that one of the discs in your spine that normally provides a cushion for your vertebrae and helps with your neck’s flexibility isn’t doing either of these things due to damage. If the pain isn’t going away, should you have the surgery? This can be a very tough situation to be in with a lot of pressure, especially if you’re in a lot of pain. But you shouldn’t worry about it. Here are a few things to think about if you have a cervical herniated disc.

Defining a Cervical Herniated Disc

Your vertebrae are the 24 bones that form your spine. The neck or cervical section of the spine works to support your head’s weight, and it allows you to bend your head backward or forward. They also help you rotate your head from side to side and rotate it 180°. There are seven cervical vertebrae, and medical professionals refer to them as C1 through C7.

A herniated disc happens when the gel-like center of your disc comes out through a small tear in the disc wall. This material can easily irritate your spinal nerves. You can experience pain as a result of swelling and spinal nerve inflammation caused by pressure exerted by the herniated disc. The herniation does tend to shrink over time, and you could experience full or partial pain relief. Any neck or arm pain you have should go away by the six-week mark.

Common Symptoms

Your herniated disc symptoms will vary depending on your unique response to pain and the location of the herniation. If you have a cervical disc that is herniated, you could feel pain that radiates into your hand and down your arm. It’s also possible to feel radiating pain near or on your shoulder blade or neck pain each time you bend your neck or turn your head. You could also experience muscle spasms, and the pain could also bring arm tingling or numbness. Muscle weakness in your triceps, biceps, or your gripping power in your hand is common too.

Additionally, it’s possible to wake up with pain with no history of trauma to your neck or spine. Some people find relief if they hold their arm in an elevated position behind their head. Doing so can relieve pressure on your nerves. Some people may have higher pain tolerances than others, so it’s not uncommon for people to report lower pain levels or pain that comes and goes instead of having a constant ache or shots of pain.

Possible Non-Invasive Treatment Options

Before your doctor suggests surgery for your cervical disc herniation, they’ll recommend non-invasive treatment options to see if they resolve the issue. Most herniated cervical disc cases will clear up with non-invasive treatment options, including:

  • Activity modifications
  • Cortisone injections
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Prescription medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretching exercises

Your doctor could also prescribe injections to help manage your pain and swelling associated with cervical disc herniation. These injections can help ease your pain levels, calm inflammation, and aid in your mobility. If you try these options with little or no success, it may be time to consider surgical intervention.

To be eligible for surgical intervention to help with your cervical disc herniation, the symptoms you experience usually have to go longer than six weeks. You have to try non-invasive treatment options first, or you have trouble with everyday activities. Arm weakness that is getting worse could also prompt surgical intervention.

Surgical Options for Cervical Disc Herniation

The most common reasons why you’d choose surgery for this issue is that you’re not improving with other treatments or the herniation is so severe that it’s clear you won’t get ideal results any other way. For example, you could have nerve damage or difficulty moving your arms or head.

Most surgical options are minimally invasive, and the incision site could be much smaller than other surgery types. This can also reduce your pain levels after you have the surgery, and other benefits include:

  • Less inclined to have pain medication reliance
  • Less rehabilitation required
  • Lower infection rates
  • Quicker recovery times
  • Reduced risk of blood loss or muscle damage

The most common type of surgery to fix a herniated cervical disc is an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, or ACDF. During this procedure, your surgeon will make an incision in the front of your neck. They’ll move aside your nerves, neck muscles, and vessels to expose your disc and vertebrae. They remove the herniated material before filling the space with a bone graft or cage to create a spinal fusion. The graft will eventually fuse the vertebra to make it a solid piece of bone. The surgeon may also add a metal plate with screws to provide stability.

Other surgical options include artificial disc replacement, a minimally-invasive microendoscopic discectomy, or a posterior cervical discectomy. The specific type of surgery you get to help with your cervical disc herniation will depend on the location and your symptoms with their severity levels. Your surgeon can discuss your options with you during the consultation.

Florida Spine Associates Can Diagnose and Treat Cervical Disc Herniation

If you’ve exhausted all non-invasive surgical options for your cervical disc herniation and you’re still in pain or your symptoms aren’t getting better, our staff can help. At Florida Spine Associates, we have a team of dedicated surgeons and support personnel that are ready to answer your questions, address your concerns, or sit down and schedule a consultation with you. Contact us today to find out more.