Cervical Disc Disease and Neck Pain
What Every Adult Should Know About Pain From Cervical Discs
Diagnosing Your Cervical Disc Disease
To diagnose your cervical disc disease, your doctor will first take a medical history to find out when your symptoms started, how severe they are, and what causes them to improve or worsen. You'll likely have a neurological exam to test your strength, reflexes, and the sensation in your arm and hand, if they are affected.
Imaging tests such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans can help your doctor visualize your spinal cord to pinpoint the source of your neck pain.
What to Do About Cervical Disc Disease
Even if you have degenerative disc disease or a slipped disc, chances are good that you'll be able to treat it without surgery. The first line in treatment for cervical disc disease is over-the-counter pain medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These medications can help reduce pain and inflammation. Your doctor might prescribe steroids or narcotic painkillers if over-the-counter medications aren't working.
Physical therapy is another treatment option for cervical disc disease. The therapist can use cervical traction, or gently manipulate your muscles and joints to reduce your pain and stiffness. The physical therapist can also help you increase your range of motion and show you exercises and correct postures to help improve your neck pain.
Your neck pain should improve with these conservative treatments. If you also have significant numbness or weakness, contact your doctor right away. You and your doctor will need to consider the next step in your treatment. Surgery is a treatment option, and deciding whether you need it is often a subjective process.
"Some people can tolerate more pain and numbness than others," says K. Daniel Riew, MD, Mildred B. Simon Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, professor of neurologic surgery, and director of the Orthopaedic Spine Institute at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "I try to make patients who just have pain wait at least six weeks [before having surgery], because in six weeks the vast majority of patients get better."
The main surgery for degenerative disc disease is called a discectomy. During this procedure, the surgeon removes the deteriorating disc. Discectomy is often followed up by artificial disc replacement, in which a metal disc is inserted in place of the disc that was removed. Discectomy may also be followed by cervical fusion, in which a small piece of bone is implanted in the space between the vertebrae. As the bone heals, it fuses with the vertebrae above and below it.