The neck is comprised of 7 bones called vertebrae. These bones make up the spinal segment we call the cervical spine. This part of the spine is responsible for holding the head upright and facilitating the various movements the head makes. Seeing that the average head weighs about 10 pounds, we can understand why the 7 cervical vertebrae and discs are so vulnerable. Through nothing more than normal daily living, many people develop degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine. Here, we discuss this condition and what may be done to treat the pain it causes.
Degenerative disc disease can occur anywhere in the spine. It is characterized by the bulging of one or more of the soft discs that sit in between one or more pairs of vertebrae. Spinal discs have a soft, gel-like center and a tough outer shell made of strong fibrous material. These structures create the necessary space between vertebrae so nerves can pass through. They also keep the vertebrae from bumping up against each other when the body moves. If a disc ruptures or tears, the inner gelatinous material can seep out and press on nerve roots. When this happens, pain occurs. The pain of a cervical herniated disc may stay in the neck area or may radiate down one arm. Additionally, many people also experience numbness, tingling, or a general sense of weakness in the affected arm.
Not all cervical herniated discs need surgery. Many can resolve with conservative care such as rest, medication, and physical therapy. Some people obtain chiropractic care to keep their spinal vertebrae in alignment. These modalities are often sufficient in the early stages of degeneration when the disc still has adequate integrity and has not lost much height or fluid. In more severe cases, patients are often advised to undergo a procedure called a discectomy.
Traditionally, the discectomy procedure involves the removal of part or all of the affected disc and, often, the fusion of two vertebrae. In our Tampa office, patients have another option. Dr. Watson’s discectomy and neural decompression procedure does not require vertebrae to be fused. The pain-relieving procedure chars the annulus of the damaged disc to turn pain nerves off. The area of herniation may also be reduced, and the blood vessels around the area are sealed to prevent further inflammation. The laser procedure takes 45 to 90 minutes and does not require general anesthesia. Patients can return to work and most normal activities in approximately 2 weeks.