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Overview

Between the vertebrae of your spine are soft discs. They let your spine twist and bend. They absorb shocks. But if damaged, the disc’s soft center can push through the disc wall. That’s a herniated disc. This bulge presses against nerves in your spine.

Causes

A herniated disc can be caused by repetitive micro-trauma or by traumatic injury. And, they can also happen if you lift something heavy.

Video Overview

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on how bad the herniation is and at what level of your spine it has happened. This can cause pain, numbness, weakness and tingling. A herniation in your cervical spine can cause problems in your neck, shoulders, arms and hands.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cervical disc herniations require a careful history and physical examination.   Imaging such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can provide excellent anatomical detail of the disc, spinal canal, and spinal nerves.  Consequently, MRI is used to accurately diagnosis and characterize disc herniations in the spine.  

Additionally, you may require Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCV) to accurately diagnose cervical radiculopathy and distinguish this disorder from other neurologic conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome or peripheral neuropathy.

Treatment

Initial treatments for a herniated disc include rest, ice, NSAIDS, and physical therapy.  Unfortunately, these treatments will not be effective for all patients. 

Cervical epidural steroid injections can be highly effective treatment for patients who don’t improve with conservative treatment.  These injections are performed in a surgical center using fluoroscopic or x-ray guidance.  They have the ability to accurately inject anti-inflammatory steroid at the exact site of the disc herniation and pinched nerve.

Percutaneous discectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that can remove disc herniations and resultant pressure on the nerve.

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