Herniated disc, commonly known as a slipped disc, is a condition in which the central part of the intervertebral disc protrudes into the spinal canal. This typically occurs due to a tear in the tough fibrous annular ring that surrounds a soft inner core, resulting in herniation of the softer material.

Aging is the most common cause; however trauma can also cause disc herniations. Herniated cervical discs can impinge on the nerves which supply the arm. Impingement causes pain, numbness, and weakness in the part of the skin and muscle that are supplied by that particular nerve root.

Symptoms

Herniated cervical discs cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and arms. This is called radiculopathy. Pain may radiate down the arm into the hand in the specific distribution of the compressed nerve root. If a cervical disc compresses the spinal cord, it can create problems with walking, hand function and lead to bowel and bladder incontinence. When spinal cord functioning is affected by cervical herniated discs it referred to as myelopathy.

Diagnosis

The spine is examined with the patient laying down and standing. Due to muscle spasm, a loss of normal spinal curvature may be noted. Radicular pain (inflammation of a spinal nerve) may increase when pressure is applied to the affected spinal level.

Individual muscle groups are tested for strength to determine any signs of weakness. Abnormal reflexes at the elbows, hands, knees or ankles may reveal the location of the disc herniation.

MR (magnetic resonance) imaging provides the best way to diagnose cervical herniated discs, nerve root compression and spinal cord compression. Herniated discs are easily seen and can be examined for surgical options. If the patient is unable to get an MRI, i.e. the patient has a pacemaker, a CT scan with myelography is an acceptable imaging technique.

Treatment

The spine is examined with the patient laying down and standing. Due to muscle spasm, a loss of normal spinal curvature may be noted. Radicular pain (inflammation of a spinal nerve) may increase when pressure is applied to the affected spinal level.

Individual muscle groups are tested for strength to determine any signs of weakness. Abnormal reflexes at the elbows, hands, knees or ankles may reveal the location of the disc herniation. MR (magnetic resonance) imaging provides the best way to diagnose cervical herniated discs, nerve root compression and spinal cord compression.

Herniated discs are easily seen and can be examined for surgical options. If the patient is unable to get an MRI, i.e. the patient has a pacemaker, a CT scan with myelography is an acceptable imaging technique.

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