Herniated Disc in the Neck: Everything You Need To Know

herniated disc in neck pain

herniated disc in your neck is a common cause for a trapped nerve. Trapped nerve pain is one of the worst pains in the world as it is a type of neurogenic (nerve) pain.

“What is a cervical disc?” and “why can a disc herniate and pinch a nerve in your neck?” Today I will talk about a cervical disc herniation causing a trapped nerve in neck and trapped nerve in shoulder, the anatomy of a cervical disc herniation, and what is the most common cervical spinal nerve to be pinched. This should help you how you would know your neck and shoulder pain could be from this commonly trapped nerve.

Watch How a Cervical Disc Herniation Can Happen

The medical term for a pain from a trapped nerve in the arm is a radiculopathy. A cervical disc herniation causes a cervical radiculopathy.

In the following video see how WWE superstar, John Cena, had a sudden, traumatic cervical disc herniation of the C5 disc that required anterior cervical fusion surgery on 17 August 2008.

The neurosurgeon in the videos briefly explains to you about the cervical disc anatomy and cervical disc herniation repair surgery and why they operated in Jon Cena’s case so quickly. The speed of the cervical disc surgery was mainly due to the sudden muscle paralysis/weakness in John Cena’s right arm.

In John Cena’s case he was expected to recover and be able to return to full activity including wrestling within 3-4 months. The cervical disc herniation surgery used in John Cena’s case was a anterior cervical fusion surgery. See how quickly Jon Cena was back on his feet.

Cervical Spine Anatomy

The basic neck anatomy most people know is we have an intervertebral disc between two vertebrae bones. The cervical disc would be the cushion lifting the two vertebrae apart.

The two vertebrae move on top of each other at two main joints called facet joints (zygapophyseal joints).

The spinal cord passes through a hole in the middle of the two vertebrae called your spinal canal.

Nerves come off the spinal cord called nerve roots and they pass through another side hole between the two vertebrae called the intervertebral foramen (IVF).

The Intervertebral Foramen

The intervertebral foramen has limited space for the nerve root to pass through. It is important to know what makes up the boundary walls of the intervertebral foramen as this is where a trapped nerve happens from a cervical disc herniation.

The intervertebral foramen boundary walls are:

  1. Front – Cervical intervertebral bisc,
  2. Roof – Top cervical vertebrae bone,
  3. Floor – Bottom cervical vertebrae bone,
  4. Back – Cervical facet joints of top and bottom vertebrae & ligament flavum.

The Cervical Disc

So when a cervical disc herniates the disc material passes into the limited space and can be called a space occupying lesion.

The disc material is usually the annulus fibrosus (AF) and nucleus fibrosus (NF). The annulus fibrosus is the hard outer layer of a cervical disk, whilst the nucleus fibrosus is the softer inner core.

The annulus fibrosus can bulge or have micro-tears in it. These tears would allow the inner nucleus fibrosus to then herniate out of a cervical disc. That is an actual what a cervical disc herniation. A cervical disc herniation is what can cause your problematic trapped nerve in neck pain.

The Most Common Trapped Nerve

The most common trapped nerve from a cervical disc herniation is C7 the 7th cervical disc.

There are 7 vertebral bones in your neck (cervical spine). So each cervical disc has its own numbers like C6-7. This would mean we are talking about the cervical disc between the 6th and 7th neck vertebrae.

The C7 spinal nerve root is usually pinched or trapped by a disc herniation at the C6-7 cervical disc.

So if you are reading this post because you have read MRI report of your neck or been told you have a cervical disc herniation between the C6-7 disc which is causing a C7 radiculopathy, least now you know what your doctor or the radiologist is talking about.

C7 Trapped Nerve Symptoms

The C7 nerve gives you skin sensation, muscle power and more.

Symptoms of a trapped C7 nerve are:

  1. Numbness or pins and needles in your finger tips
  2. Weakness in your triceps muscle, and flexing your wrist
  3. Pain around your shoulder blade
  4. Pain down back of your shoulder and arm

These are some of the most common things or symptoms you would notice if you maybe had a trapped C7 nerve.

How to Confirm a C7 Trapped Nerve

Your chiropractor or doctor could be able to tell from a thorough neurological and orthopaedic examination of the cervical spine. When a C7 is under stress it does show signs of nerve irritation.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell and so further investigation may include cervical x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  Currently a MRI scan is the best to show a cervical disc herniation this is because x-ray cannot show if a disc is herniated.

Herniated Cervical Disc Treatment Options

When you have been diagnosed with a cervical disc herniation your probably wondering what are your treatment options for a trapped nerve in neck.

Cervical disc herniation treatment depends on the severity of the nerve damage or pain.

As you saw above with John Cena he had immediate surgery due to a traumatic disc herniation. His cervical disc herniation instantly created muscle weakness. In most cases it is a gradual disc bulge or herniation.

After getting a diagnosis first you may find your doctor recommending conservative care for the first 6 weeks usually as the first course of treatment. During this time nerve pain medication can also be prescribed by your doctor and taken to help with pain level management.

If the nerve damage gets worse and your arm becomes increasingly weaker in strength or pain levels become uncontrollable then your orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon might discuss neck surgery with you. There many types of neck surgery options and they would discuss with you which they are comfortable doing and what they recommend for you.

Good luck if your going under the knife and get better soon.

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