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A herniated disc in the neck causes pressure on the spinal cord or cervical nerve roots and may cause a variety of symptoms. As in the lower back, the inner core of disc material protrudes into the spinal canal and causes pressure and irritation of the spinal cord and/or nerve root.
Symptoms may include the sudden onset of pain and/or numbness traveling from the neck down the arm (following the path of the irritated nerve). In addition, difficulty walking, weakness of the arms or legs and balance issues may occur. Neck pain may or may not be present.
After a complete history and physical exam, an MRI will be required to confirm the diagnosis of a cervical disc herniation.
Many of the symptoms of a herniated disc in the cervical spine may improve with time. Physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and sometimes steroids will often help.
If the symptoms do not improve or if significant weakness of the arm or legs is present, surgery may be required. The pressure on the spinal cord or nerve is relieved by removing the disc and spurs of bone, and then a disc replacement or fusion of the area is done. Disc replacement involves removal of the disc material and the insertion of an artificial disc that allows for motion to be preserved. In some situations, the compression can be relieved from the back of the cervical spine with a minimally invasive surgery. The patient is usually released from the hospital the next day.