Cervical Discs are shock absorbers in the Neck. They consist of strong connective tissue on the outside called the Annulus Fibrosis that is responsible to keep the inner core contained within its borders. The center is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposis. A slipped neck disc is when this inner core breaks out and presses on nerves. The inner core of the disc reacts to the movements of your neck to distribute the forces going through the cervical vertebrae. Neck disc injury are damage to these cushion between the vertebrae in your neck.
A slipped disc in your neck produce a wide spectrum of other problems.
Each person’s case is unique and we want to address your specific needs. If you would like us to investigate or provide some insight, we invite you to contact us by clicking the link below.
Cause of a Slipped neck disc
The cervical discs outer fibrous layers gets torn due to repetitive looking down (cervical flexion movements). These are layers of tissue tightly arranged against each other. When this outer layer tears, it allows the nucleus Pulposis to push out onto the spinal cord and cervical nerves.
The most frequent cause is repetitive stress put on the outer layers by keeping the neck in a sustained forward bending position (Dentist, Surgeons, therapists that keep their neck bent forward for hours per day). Other causes include trauma, like falling backwards and hitting the back of your head on a hard surface can rupture the disc and the pain will be immediate. In some cases patients experience disc symptoms then they wake up after sleeping in an awkward position or just simply sneezing, this is the end result of prolonged damage to the disc that finally gave in.
Danger!! Neck discs pressing on your spinal cord
In some cases the neck disc may press directly onto the spinal cord that is situated at the back of the neck discs. The spinal cord is enveloped inside a membrane called the Dura mater, which extends from your barin’s and carries all the necessary nutrients and oxygen to the spinal cord’s nerves. The neck discs may interrupt the nutrients and normal feeding of your spinal cord, which may cause havoc all over your nervous system.
Self Test (Typical pain pattern)
Lay down on a bed, when you try to sit up forward (like doing a crunch) you will feel sharp pain in the neck and radiate to your arm or upper back. You should not feel any pain in the neck when you are lying down.
A Cervical disc prolapse always has a referred pain going along the level of the Cervical nerves that’s involved, running to the shoulder, arm or upper back (between or underneath the shoulder blades). This is because the Nucleus pushed out backwards between the outer fibers(that should contain the nucleus movement) and puts pressure on the nerves innervating the a
Stand or sit and tuck your chin in towards your chest (looking forward) you will feel the pain in the neck gets worse the further you look down. In some cases you will feel the neck pain will have a painful arch, meaning while going through the movement of looking down, you will experience pain the first few degrees, then it eases up as you bend your neck further forward,but you will experience the pain in the same area as you return your neck back to its upright position.
Diagnosis of a neck disc injury
Physiotherapist are able to accurately determine the severity (how bad) and at which level the disc(C1-T1) is bulging or prolapsed.
MRI will be the golden standard to visualize the cervical disc bulge or prolapse.
X-rays will not be very useful, considering only the bones show up on X-rays.
CT scan may be useful to identify the disc, but its difficult to identify the nerve roots and its close relationship with the disc putting pressure on these nerves.
Our personal experience with slipped discs
Most patients presenting with a cervical disc complains more of the referral pain as compared to the initial neck pain itself. The patients are more concerned about the pain in their upper back, shoulder and arm. We tend to find that General practitioners refer the patient to us due to “severe neck spasms” or sending them for a sonar of the shoulder (which turns out to be perfectly normal).
Only after we start investigating the Neck area (cervical discs) we can reproduce the shoulder, arm and shoulder blade pain with ease.
Symptoms of a Cervical Disc Bulge
- Only on one side of the neck
- Bending your neck forward will bring on the pain
- Dull, cramp like pain
- Gets worse over time, no sudden pain
- Worse in the mornings
- Pain eases when lying down
- Headaches may develop
- Spasms slowly get worse
- Moving against gravity increases pain
- Pain gets worse when sitting, driving, reading, working on a computer.
Symptoms of a Cervical Disc Prolapse
- One or both sides of the neck
- Sharp stabbing pain when moving the neck
- Pain don’t ease (difficult to get a comfortable position)
- Sharp stabbing pain when turning your head or bending forward
- Pain into the arm, shoulder or down your back (between shoulder blades)
- Muscle spasms, Pins & Needles, Numbness in the arm and fingers
- Constant headache
- Sneezing will aggravate the pain
- Lying down doesn’t really ease the pain
- Pain worse in the morning
Time to heal
The faster we can attend to it, the shorter the healing time. Firstly the leak of the disc tissue(nucleus) must be pushed back into its normal place (to avoid putting pressure on the nerves and spinal cord). This process can take any time between 3 days or 2 weeks. At this point the patient’s pain subsides significantly.
However, the torn outer layers of connective tissue at the back of the disc only begins to heal from this point. It takes eight weeks of consistently keeping the disc ‘in’ to allow the torn tissue to heal.
One of the most common problems we encounter that slows the healing process is the time it takes for patients to seek treatment. In many cases patients think that they are experiencing neck muscle spasms, they dose themselves with muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications. Here’s the problem:
Muscle relaxant will reduce the stability of the surrounding muscles. The muscles are responsible to keep the cervical vertebra stable. Take away that stability and the pain will increase significantly.
Anti-inflammatory medications will only reduce the swelling in and around the disc, when the medication wears off the pain will return.
When is surgery necessary?
In some patients multiple levels may be affected with one or more severe disc bulges, or severe degenerative changes in addition to their bulging disc(s), it may not be possible to push the bulging disc back into position.
When the disc compressing on the nerves cannot be relieved surgery must be considered due to the potential permanent damage to the nerves.
Physiotherapist treatments initially involves getting the disc back into its position. Pain medication provided by a general practitioner can be very effective to relieve the pain. This provides us with a window period in order for us to treat the bulging or prolapsed disc.
Soft tissue massage of the muscles surrounding the neck.
Electrotherapy is very effective and relieving some of the pain
Ultrasound is used to accelerate the healing of the cells
Strapping and taping can redistribute the forces in the neck to minimize the pressure put on the disc
Cervical joint mobilizations are very effective to get the disc back into its normal position
Traction is an old-school technique yet still very effective at treating cervical discs
Dry needling is used to stimulate the healing process within your body and to localize a cellular response
Neck exercises like Mackenzie mobilizations are used to maintain the disc position
We will educate and advise you on activities and positions good you can put the net in to prevent it from getting worse
We will guide you through this process and ultimately prevent it from reoccurring.
Other Causes of Neck Pain
Also known as
Neck disc injury, Cervical disc hernia, Neck slipped disc, Cervical disc bulge, Bulging disc, Prolapsed disc, Herniated disc, Discogenic Wry Neck, Intervertebral Disc Injury, Sprained Disc