Cervical Disc (Discogenic) Pain

Between the vertebrae of the spine are cushions that work as shock absorbers to protect the vertebrae and facilitate movement. These cushions are called intervertebral discs and are made up of tough, fibrous connective tissue which surrounds a gel-like centre.


The cervical discs are those that are found between the first seven vertebrae of the spine in the area we think of as the neck. Pain that comes from these discs can come from a variety of reasons, whether by injury or a degenerative condition, but in most cases can be treated and the sufferer can continue his active lifestyle.


Causes of Cervical Disc (Discogenic) Pain


Cervical disc pain is usually caused by a herniated disc, or what is more commonly called a slipped disc, or by degeneration. A disc becomes herniated when the gel-like centre of the disc protrudes through the outer connective tissue. This can happen because of sudden injury, such as lifting something badly or which is too heavy, or because of age, as the fibrous connective tissue can weaken and allow the gel to protrude.


The gel can then bulge and put pressure on the spinal cord or on nerve roots, which can cause pain. The discs can also degenerate with age. As we get older, the discs lose much of their liquid and as a consequence they become much smaller. This makes the gap between the vertebrae smaller and puts more pressure on the bones and the facet joints that hold the vertebrae together.


Symptoms of Cervical Disc (Discogenic) Pain


The symptoms will vary slightly depending on whether the problem is a herniated disc or a degenerative disc. If it is a herniated disc, some people will not experience pain in the neck but will feel pain down the arm to the hand or across the shoulder.


This is because of the pressure put on a nerve root. Because of this radiating pain down the arm, some mistake the pain for that of a heart attack. In some cases, the pain may be relieved by holding the affected arm over the head, as this takes pressure of the affected nerve root. If the problem is a degenerative disc, the pain may be in the neck when the head is held in a fixed state for a long period or when it is overextended, such as when you look up.


Diagnosis of Cervical Disc (Discogenic) Pain


In some cases, such as a herniated disc caused by an injury or strain, the disc will sort itself out after a few days of rest and light pain medication, such as ibuprofen. If the pain continues more than a week and is constant or is getting worse with time, the best course of action is to see your doctor. He can diagnose the problem with a short physical examination and he may arrange for an MRI or CT scan to verify his findings.


Treatment of Cervical Disc (Discogenic) Pain


In the case of a herniated disc, your doctor may start with conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication to help control the pain and ease the swelling. More aggressive treatments include injections into the disc to help ease the swelling.


Surgery is only very rarely used and only for the most severe cases. Not much can be done for the disc if it has grown smaller with age, so treatment may include easing the newly affected areas, such as the facet joints or nearby muscles.