Cervical Disc Disease
Degeneration of disks due to decades of lifting, bending, twisting, and turning is referred to as aging. However, when this aging process occurs prematurely or more rapidly, it is referred to as degeneration. This degeneration of the disks, specifically in the cervical area, reduces the flexibility and height of the disks resulting in a stiff neck accompanied by sharp pain.
Symptoms of Cervical Disk Disease
- Acute neck pain which is present when the patient is upright or is moving the head. However, it reduces when the patient is lying down or is reclining.
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in arms, neck, or shoulders which is caused by the irritation of nerves in the cervical area.
Cervical Disk Disease: Diagnosis
The diagnosis of cervical disk disease involves a three-pronged strategy:
- Evaluating Medical History: The diagnosis of cervical disk disease begins with a review of the patient’s history of the symptoms of cervical pain. The doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, their severity, and whether you have previously undergone any treatment for the disease.
- Performing Physical Examination: The doctor might physically examine the patient to evaluate the neck extension and its flexibility. As part of the physical examination process, the doctor might ask the patient to perform specific movements and accordingly report to the doctor if the pain in the neck increases or decreases.
- Prescribing Diagnostic Tests: Based on the symptoms reported by the patient on physical examination, the doctor might suggest imaging investigations such as x-ray, MRI, and even a CT-scan. The purpose of these imaging studies is to confirm whether the degeneration process has started. These studies also help in ruling out other conditions such as calcification, arthritis, tumor, and other infections that can also cause similar symptoms. The imaging films help the doctor in evaluating whether there is any loss of disk space between the vertebrae. The doctor might also suggest a test known as discography, which involves injecting a contrast dye in the affected disk for the purpose of generating an accurate image.
Cervical Disk Disease: Treatment Options
There are two lines of treatment for cervical disk disease: non-surgical and surgical.
- Non-Surgical Treatment: For patients who experience severe and sudden neck pain, doctors typically advise pain relieving medications such as anti-inflammatory agents, acetaminophen, and muscle relaxants. Depending upon the severity of the pain, temporary bed rest or the use of brace might even be advised. Some patients are also advised physical therapy involving stretching exercises for improving flexibility. They are also asked to do extension exercises for maintaining the natural curve of the spine. Doctors also advise the use of cervical pillows, cervical collars, and neck traction for stabilizing the neck and improving neck alignment.
- Surgical Treatment: If the symptoms of cervical disk disease persist even after taking anti-inflammatory medications and the imaging diagnostic results show that the vertebral discs have herniated, then the doctor might advise a surgery. The surgical procedure commonly adopted is known as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and it involves the removal of the problematic disc and then using instruments for fusion with the adjacent vertebrae.
- “Cervical Disk Disease” by E J Russell. Published in November 1990, Volume 177, Issue 2 of Radiology, accessed on 25 May 2015. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1148/radiology.177.2.2217760