Displacement of the cervical intervertebral disc occurs when the discs protrude between the vertebrae in the neck. This is commonly referred to as a slipped disc, though there isn’t any actual slipping occurring, rather it’s a herniation. The discs between each vertebra in the spine are gel-like with a tough outer ring that serve as a cushion to absorb shock. When the discs herniate and get pushed into the spinal canal, it puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, which can cause symptoms like pain, tingling, and decreasing range of motion.
Myelopathy refers to the neurological deficits that can occur after the herniation of a cervical disc. While disc displacement can cause myelopathy, it doesn’t always. Seeing a doctor to receive a diagnosis and begin treatment will help to ensure the herniated disc doesn’t become further displaced. This is crucial to preventing myelopathy.
Symptoms of Disc Herniation (without and with myelopathy)
Common symptoms of displacement of the cervical disc without myelopathy include:
- Neck pain
- Pain in the shoulder and arms
- Weakness in neck, shoulder, and arms
Symptoms can vary depending on the extent of the disc’s herniation and may also worsen throughout a given day or when partaking in certain activities.
If the herniation becomes severe enough to cause myelopathy, the following neurological symptoms may occur:
- Sensory changes
- This occurs as tingling and numbing increase, making it difficult to sense things like temperature and touch.
- A decrease in motor functions
- When pressure is put on motor nerves, it can be difficult to pick things up or lift the arms.
- Reflex issues
- This becomes especially prevalent in the upper limbs
Disc Displacement Causes
While the scientific community hasn’t determined the exact causes of disc displacement without myelopathy, they have found that disc herniations often occur in younger adults who are experiencing only mild disc degeneration. This means there’s still enough disc material present to get pushed out of place. Those with degenerative disc disease are often predisposed to it. Other risk factors include accidents and over-use of muscles related to the cervical spine due to repetitive activity.
Treatments for Displacement of the Cervical Disc
Displaced discs are diagnosed by doctors after performing a physical examination and ordering images of your neck via an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Non-surgical treatments of cervical intervertebral disc displacement without myelopathy may include:
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Lifestyle changes that involve reducing activities that might be worsening symptoms
Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the herniation or if conservative treatments don’t improve symptoms. If you’re suffering from a herniated disc, or are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, consulting a doctor will help to solidify your diagnosis and create a treatment plan. Visit the surgeon locator for help finding a doctor near you.