While age may bring wisdom, it can also bring discomfort. A life’s worth of twisting, poor posture, or injury or takes its toll on your neck:
- The fluid-filled cervical discs separating the vertebrae in your spine become less flexible, thinner, and are less effective shock absorbers.
- The soft gel-like center of the cervical disc dries out and shrinks, narrowing the space available for nerve roots and the spinal cord.
- The ligaments that surround the cervical disc become brittle and more easily tear.
This deterioration is referred to as cervical disc degeneration or cervical degenerative disc disease.
Healthy Cervical Disc
Cervical Disc Degeneration
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL DISC DEGENERATION
Degenerative disc disease in the neck (the cervical spine) causes:
- Decreased flexibility
- Neck pain
- Pain radiating to the back of the shoulder or into the arms
- Numbness and tingling in the arms and hands
- Lower back and leg pain and weakness.
DIAGNOSING CERVICAL DISC DEGENERATION
Your doctor will determine whether you have degenerative disc disease in the neck by:
- Checking the flexibility, strength, and range of motion in your neck, arms, and legs
- Ordering imaging tests such as x-rays, an MRI, or a CT (CAT) scan
If degenerative disc disease is present, the images will often show a narrowing of the spaces between your vertebrae, which indicates that one or more discs have thinned or collapsed. The x-rays may also show bone spurs. Sometimes disc deterioration and bone spurs can compress nerve roots.
TREATMENT FOR CERVICAL DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE
Your pain and discomfort may be a natural part of aging or may result from injury. Regardless, you can do something about it. The treatment for cervical disc degeneration depends on the extent of the deterioration.
Nonsurgical treatments. If you do not have evidence of nerve root compression with muscle weakness, your doctor may recommend:
- A soft cervical collar to rest your neck
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy
Surgical treatments. If rest, medication, and physical therapy don’t help or if tests show nerve root or spinal cord compression, your doctor may advise surgery to lessen pain, weakness, and tingling:
- Cervical fusion. The surgeon removes the cervical herniated disc and replaces it with a spacer and an anterior cervical plate.
- Cervical disc replacement. The surgeon removes the deteriorated disc and replaces it with an artificial cervical disc that flexes, thus preserving your flexibility and motion.
The best treatment for you depends on your unique situation. Discuss treatment options with your doctor.