A Spinal Disc Herniation is when the inside jelly of the disk seeps through to the fibrous wall and puts chemical or mechanical pressure on the nerve. Intervertebral discs are positioned between the vertebrae in the spine. The outside disc is made from cartilage and fiber, while in the center of the disk its jelly-like solution. These discs serve many purposes, including allowing movement of the spine, creating space between the vertebrae, and acting as shock absorbers. The gelatinous middle allows the disc to compress and expand based on impact and movement. A healthy spine provides a full range of motion and activities of the body. Many people have no symptoms of a herniated disk; however, depending on where the herniated disk is, it can result in pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm, leg, or back.
What causes a Herniated Disc Back Pain?
Trauma to the spine can cause the discs to herniate or even rupture. That can include auto accidents, sports injuries, a fall, or water dive in the wrong way.
Most people can’t identify the cause of their herniated disk. But most people remember an incident in which they were left in a debilitating back or neck pain. Sometimes, using your back muscles instead of your leg and thigh muscles to lift heavy objects or twisting and turning while lifting can both cause a disc herniation.
Another cause can be related to age. As we get older, the discs can deteriorate and dehydrate, leading their wall to weaken and herniate easier.
Where do you get the Herniated Disk?
The two main areas for disk herniation are lumbar and cervical spine regions. Lumbar disc herniation occurs 15 times more than cervical disc herniation and is a significant cause of lower back pain. We have a detailed description of cervical and lumbar disk herniation on our website.
Cervical Herniated Disc
The back is composed of bones, joints, discs, ligaments and muscles. The bones that run from the neck down the spine are called vertebrae. In between each vertebra is a disc. These discs have three main functions:
- Act as a shock absorber between adjoining vertebrae.
- Act as joints that allow for mobility in the spine.
- Act as ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together.
In order for a disc to function properly, it must have high water content because this makes the disc strong yet flexible. As long as the disc is well hydrated and undamaged, it has the ability to support heavy loads.
Injury, poor body mechanics and poor nutrition can cause the disc to become dehydrated. This causes the disc to lose its ability to support the spinal bones during everyday living. This can result in disc injury such as a bulge or herniation.
When a cervical (neck) disc becomes herniated, it can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, chest, arms or hands. Arm pain from a cervical herniated disc is one of the more common cervical spine conditions found in the 30 to 50year-old age group. Even though a herniated disc may happen due to some form of injury or trauma to the cervical spine, more often than not, the symptoms seem to appear rather spontaneously. Arm pain due to a cervical herniated disc occurs because the disc material presses or pinches on a cervical nerve, causing pain to radiate down the nerve pathway of the entire arm. In addition to pain, a person may experience weakness, numbness, and tingling in the arm.
What Causes a Cervical Herniated Disc?
As we age, ligaments surrounding the discs become less flexible and elastic, making them brittle and more easily torn. This can also prevent important nutrients and hydration to get to the disc to keep it healthy. When a disc herniates, it puts pressure on nearby spinal nerves or the spinal cord, and this is what causes all that pain.
Symptoms of a Cervical Herniated Disc
- Neck, shoulder and/or arm pain
- pain ranges from dull, aching and hard to locate to sharp, burning and easy to pinpoint
- radiating arm pain
- numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm or hand in more severe cases
A specific cervical disc herniation has its own pain patterns and neurological problems. These are as follows:
- C5 (C5 nerve root): Can cause weakness in the deltoid muscle in the upper arm. Does not usually cause numbness or tingling. Can cause shoulder pain.
- C6 (C6 nerve root): Can cause weakness in the biceps (muscles in the front of the upper arms) and wrist extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate to the thumb side of the hand. This is one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation to occur.
- C7 (C7 nerve root): Can cause weakness in the triceps (muscles in the back of the upper arm and extending to the forearm) and the finger extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate down the triceps and into the middle finger. This is also one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation.
- T1 (C8 nerve root): Can cause weakness with handgrip. Numbness and tingling and pain can radiate down the arm to the pinky finger side of hand.