There are many medical problems and complications that most people never truly understand. The biggest among these problems are those caused by, or those that happen in the cervical disc. Cervical disc problems can be very severe, but most of the time they are caused by minor problems or accidents.
Understanding the structure, location and function of the cervical disc might help one understand exactly how severe problems associated with the cervical disc can be. The cervical spine is a name used to refer to the neck region within the medical field. The neck is part of the flexible spinal column, the backbone, which runs through most of the body.
The neck or cervical spine has seven bones, named C1 to C7, between which are intervertebral discs. The function of these discs is to allow free movement of the neck, also doubling up as shock absorbers when the person moves.
Apart from mobility problems, the neck has other important functions that perhaps people know but do not take as seriously as they should. The neck supports the head, moving it about to facilitate such actions as eating, seeing and listening. The bones C1 to C7 and the disks in between make movement easy but they also have a round column where the nerves pass through. The nerves connect to the brain, tell it what the body is feeling and transmit reaction messages.
Cervical disc functions
The neck supports many actions. Between the lifting, movement, turning and twisting, all the movement can take a destructive toll on one’s neck. With time, the discs begin to regenerate; hence the person begins experience pain. Statistics show that almost two thirds of people experience some sort of neck pain in their lifetime.
Over time, with the cervical spine regenerating, symptoms begin to appear. Cervical spine regeneration disease is available even in people who have not shown symptoms. In people under the age of 40, 25 per cent of them without symptoms have the disease. In people over the age of 40, the number increases to 60 per cent.
With such numbers, problems with the cervical disease should be taken seriously. Other problems with the cervical disc include those from risk factors like bone infections, meningitis, problems with neck muscles and cervical herniated disc problems.
Apart from a herniated disc and regeneration, the following are some of the other factors that might lead to problems with the neck are as follows.
A broken collarbone can cause problems with the neck. This injury is common with cyclists when they fall over with their arms outstretched. Bursitis is another possible cause of problems with the cervical section of the spine. A bursa provides cushion to joints and muscles, and bursitis is a situation where there is welling of the bursa sac especially after injuries. Referred pain from heart attacks is another possible cause of neck pain.
Rotator cuff injuries also cause problems with the neck. Rotator cuffs are tendons in the shoulder, whose purpose is to support it during lifting, sports or during repetitive use. Whiplash injury is another common risk factor. The ligament and muscle around the neck and shoulder can be injured during sudden acceleration or sudden deceleration. This can happen during a car accident.
Cervical herniated disc
Cervical herniated disc problems cause pain patterns depending on the bone that is affected.
- If the bone affected is the C4 or C5, then the affected muscle will be the deltoid muscle that is located in the upper arm. The problems in this case are shoulder and sometimes neck pains.
- If the C5 or C6 bone is the one affected, then the biceps and finger extensor muscles will be most affected. Tingling sensations, pain and numbness can be felt in the thumb or middle finger.
- The C6 or C7 bones can cause muscle weaknesses in the triceps. The C8 nerve root can cause problems with a handgrip and pain in the little finger.
The most common symptom of problems with the cervical area is the dull aching in the neck. Some of these pains worsen when the individual moves their neck. The discs are designed to act as shock absorbers during movement, so when they degenerate or slip, they apply pressure on the nerves causing pain in the neck or in other parts of the body like the shoulders or the arm.
The other common symptoms are swishing sounds in the neck. Swishing is usually one of the biggest indicators of problems in the neck area. The swishing sounds normally happen when the individual attempts to move their neck. Other symptoms include swelling of the lymph nodes, dizziness or lightheadedness and numbness. In some instances, there are shoulder and facial pains. These symptoms associated with pain in other regions of the body result from the pinching of nerves in the neck.
Since these problems are normally associated with injuries during childhood and physical stresses and strains, most people complaining of pain in the neck and swishing sounds normally have their medical histories checked. When the patient comes complaining with symptoms, they will attempt to determine what causes them to worsen and what makes them improve.
There are also neurological examinations that are meant to test the reflex, strength and the feelings in the arms, shoulders and the fingers. Imaging tests are more helpful, though, and X-rays, MRIs and other scans of the spinal cord like ICT, all the way up to the neck can offer more conclusive evidence.
There are three major treatment options. The first option is the use of pain medication. If the discs are regenerating or if there is a slip in the disc, most of the time it could be treated without surgery. The most common over the counter drugs are Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen.
Steroids and narcotics can be prescribed if the normal pain killers do not work. Physical therapy is also another option which can improve the range of motion that one has and their pain threshold. In the more severe cases, the surgery is often the last option. Discectomy involves the removal of the regenerated discs and replacing them with artificial ones.