Considering all the stress that is put on the neck, it is no surprise that two-thirds of Americans experience significant neck pain at least once in their lives. Neck pain is a common complaint as neck muscles can become strained from poor posture, injury, or rough movements. Chronic neck pain may also be a sign of a more serious underlying condition such as cervical disc degeneration, which can be mistaken for neck pain until becoming severe. However, cervical disc degeneration is more than just a stiff neck and refers to a degenerative process in which the discs in the cervical spine have begun to deteriorate and cause pain in the neck, upper body, and arms.
What is Cervical Disc Degeneration?
The cervical spine is the part of your spinal column that forms your neck. It consists of seven vertebrae which are separated by discs. These cervical discs stabilize your neck and allow you to smoothly turn and move as desired and act as shock absorbers during activity.
Each disc is composed of a sturdy outer wall and a soft, gel-like inner core. When you are born, these discs are primarily composed of water. When you age, the discs lose some of this water content and begin to thin, providing less shock absorption. This process also makes the disc prone to developing cracks and tears. These changes in your discs can cause the disc to bulge out or protrude and press against nearby nerves which can cause a variety of sensations ranging from numbness, limited mobility, muscle weakness, tingling, and radiating pain that may extend down the neck into the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Disc Degeneration
Cervical disc generation can often be dismissed as neck pain early on. Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms may vary from person to person. Pain may develop slowly or appear suddenly with symptoms that range from a mild neck ache to an inability to move the head without severe pain. Common signs or symptoms of this condition may include:
- Limited movement
- Muscle stiffness
- Neck pain
- Worsening pain with movement
If the nerves are affected, patients may experience pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the neck, shoulder, arm, hands, and fingers. These symptoms may only be present on one side of the body. In severe cases, nerves in the neck may begin to affect nerves in the lower body leading to muscle weakness in the legs, loss of coordination, difficulty walking, and trouble with your bowels and/or bladder. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor right away.
A diagnosis is typically achieved after a thorough review of your medical history, discussion of symptoms, and physical examination. During the examination, you may be asked to perform a variety of tasks and describe how those actions affect your symptoms. A neurological exam may also be performed to test your strength, reflexes, and sensations in the affected areas. Imaging tests such as MRI, X-rays, and CAT scans are also used to identify the disc degeneration and how the nerves and surrounding soft tissues are affected as well as the severity of your condition. Once diagnosed, we will work with you to create a customized treatment plan tailored to your needs and lifestyle.
Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms, your doctor’s recommendations, and whether nerves have been affected. As chiropractors, we specialize in the manipulation of joints within the body to ensure proper functioning and health of the nervous system and that includes your neck. Not only will we locate the source and cause of your pain but we will also provide effective treatment options and lifestyle adjustments to ensure your recovery and restore your optimal quality of life. Rest, cold and warm compresses, and over-the-counter medication can help mild symptoms while more moderate cases may require joint manipulation, bracing, and physical therapy.
The goal of our treatment is to improve joint mechanics within the spinal column to alleviate inflammation and pressure placed on nerves and surrounding soft tissue to restore mobility and function to the neck. Your chiropractor may use a combination of manual manipulation, heat and ice therapy, instrument-assisted manipulation, and therapeutic massage to alleviate symptoms and treat the source of your pain.
If you are experiencing neck pain and suspect cervical disc degeneration, seek professional treatment. Regardless of the source of your pain, we will work with you to determine the right treatment plan for your needs. For more information on cervical disc degeneration or to schedule an appointment, contact The Center for Spine, Sport, & Physical Medicine today.