Treatments for Cervical Disc Disease: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Treat Pain From Cervical Disc Disease on my Own?
There are several things you can do to relieve pain from a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease. At first, take it easy, and avoid any activities (such as sports or heavy lifting) that aggravate your neck pain. Apply ice to your neck during the first 24 to 48 hours -- this will help reduce inflammation and pain. Wrap the cold source in a towel first to protect your skin, and leave it on for about 20 minutes at a time. After this period, apply heat to the area to help relax sore and stiffened muscles.
Simple stretching exercises help keep your neck flexible and reduce stiffness. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications -- NSAIDs -- such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can help with the pain, but read the labels carefully and check with your doctor before using them regularly.
What Are the Signs I Need to See a Doctor for Cervical Disc Disease Pain?
See your doctor if your neck pain is intense or persists for more than a couple of weeks. However, if your pain gets worse or you have numbness or weakness radiating into your shoulders, arm, or hand, see your doctor immediately. The doctor will take a complete medical history to find out how long you've had the pain and what activities intensify or relieve the pain. You may need diagnostic tests such as X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT scan) to determine whether you have cervical disc disease, and if so, where exactly the problem is located.
Should I See a Physical Therapist for my Pain?
A physical therapist can treat your cervical disc disease by evaluating the tissues and joints of your neck to reduce pain and increase your range of motion. Physical therapists sometimes use a technique called neck traction, which gently pulls the head away from the body to open up the spaces between discs and relieve pressure on the affected disc and nerve. During physical therapy sessions, the therapist can show you safe and effective exercises as well as correct postures.
Is It Safe to Use Over-the-Counter Painkillers?
Although over-the-counter painkillers are generally safe, use them with caution and only under your doctor's guidance. Taking excessive amounts of acetaminophen can damage the liver, even at the recommended dose. If taken with alcohol, acetaminophen can damage the kidneys as well as the liver, so avoid all alcohol. NSAIDs also can have side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers, and liver and kidney damage, especially when used for long periods of time. Read the package directions carefully and don't take any more than the label suggests and your doctor recommends. Avoid alcohol use if you are taking NSAIDs because it can increase the risks of liver problems.