Cervical herniated disc symptoms are far from guaranteed to be present from even the worst looking prolapsed disc in the neck. Cervical intervertebral protrusions are typical of any other herniation throughout the vertebral column, in that most are asymptomatic. Most bulging discs do not produce any symptoms, nor do they enact any concerning neurological effects, regardless of where they occur. However, when pain occurs due to a cervical disc pathology, it may strike locally in the neck or upper back, in the upper extremities or even in the legs and feet, making proper diagnosis a troublesome proposition.
Some herniations produce pain and associated symptoms for a short time, especially when induced by traumatic injury. However, it is every rare that a chronic disc pain syndrome will occur, unless there are extenuating circumstances, including extreme injury or degeneration causing neurological compression. When herniated discs in the neck are symptom-producing, the effects can be wide-ranging and severe.
This essay profiles symptomatic herniations in the cervical spine and the consequences that they may enact in the body.
Most herniated discs in the neck are theorized to cause pain through the processes of spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis or chemical radiculitis. Both forms of stenosis can be incorrectly diagnosed as the source of pain in most patients, since both are normal parts of the spinal aging process. Both involve documentable physical changes to the spinal anatomy, but do not necessarily enact symptoms.
In some cases, spinal stenosis can cause variable pain patterns virtually anywhere below the affected level, including the lower back and legs. Of course, some patients might suffer upper body neurological dysfunction, as well, or instead of lower body symptoms, but this is not typical of central stenotic change.
Foraminal stenosis, which causes a truly pinched nerve, should not produce lasting pain, but instead should cause true objective numbness and weakness in a specific set of muscles. Pain might occur at initial onset, but should not endure if a single spinal nerve root is being compressed. When symptoms do occur in association with foraminal or lateral recess stenosis, they should also be confined to the area of the anatomy which is served by the affected nerve root.
Chemical radiculitis is a controversial diagnosis involving irritation of sensitized neurological tissues, due to leaking nucleus pulposus proteins. While this can cause chronic pain and possible neurological effects, chemical nerve irritation is not a common source of suffering. Many patients do not even seem to be affected by leaking nucleus proteins, even when definitive nerve contact does indeed occur. However, when radiculitis does cause pain, it should be confined to the anatomical area served by the affected nerve, in much the same manner as neurological compression due to foraminal stenosis.
Cervical nerve roots are usually affected unilaterally, which means symptoms will appear on only one side of the body; but this is not a rule. These nerves serve specific areas in the arms, hands and body, so symptom correlation should always be performed by a neurologist who specializes in the central nervous system.
Both foraminal stenosis and chemical radiculitis, which are indeed caused by a herniated cervical disc, typically respond well to appropriate therapy. For treatment-resistant versions of these diagnoses, the source of pain is often incorrectly identified, leading to multiple failed attempts at treatment.
Spinal stenosis is more complicated, since the condition is rather unpredictable in its symptomology and can change in its usual expression. However, it is always crucial to remember that most mild to moderate cases of central stenosis are normal and not the actual causation behind the majority of back or neck pain complaints.
After all, stenotic change in the neck is universal as people age, but only a slim minority experience symptomatic expressions. This being said, when central canal stenosis is symptom-generating, the effects can be the most severe of virtually any type of spinal pathology.
The cervical spine is the second most common area to suffer disc abnormalities, especially in the lower areas at C5/C6, C6/C7 and C7/T1. Most herniated discs in the neck will not cause pain, tingling, numbness or weakness, although they will often be blamed for these concerns.
Cervical degenerative disc disease is one of the main factors which facilitate herniations in the neck, but most degenerative-induced bulging discs clearly do not produce pain.
Traumatic injury to the neck can certain enact acute pain, but cervical herniated disc symptoms should resolve in 2 to 8 weeks, with or without treatment. For conditions which last longer than that, the actual source may be another completely different physical condition, or even a psychosomatic pain perpetuation syndrome which uses oxygen deprivation as its trigger mechanism. In only a minority of cases does injury cause chronic disc-related concerns.