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Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms

author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Cervical Herniated Disc Symptoms
A woman holds her neck as if she is in some pain. Photo Credit: deeepblue/iStock/Getty Images

Fluid-filled discs separate the spine bones, or vertebrae. The discs of the neck are called cervical discs, which cushion the vertebrae and provide a space for nerves to exit the spinal cord. A herniated disc describes the rearward displacement of an intervertebral disc, which often compresses exiting nerves. Pressure on the nerves gives rise to symptoms. The nature of those symptoms typically points to the location of the cervical herniated disc.

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Neck Pain and Headaches

Neck pain is a characteristic symptom of a cervical disc herniation, notes the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch. Bending the head forward, may alleviate the pain. Turning the head away from the side of the pain may also provide relief. Tilting the head backward often aggravates the pain, which may be dull or sharp. Headaches located at the back of the head may accompany the neck pain of a cervical herniated disc.

Shoulder Pain and Weakness

There are seven cervical vertebrae numbered C1 through C7, beginning from the top of the spine. A herniated disc between C4 and C5 often causes pain that extends, or radiates, toward the shoulder blade, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The pain arises from compression of the nerves exiting at the C4-C5 intervertebral space. Pain caused by cervical nerve compression is termed cervical radiculopathy. Weakness of the deltoid muscle, which covers the top of the shoulder, may occur in some people with C4-C5 disc herniation.

Biceps Pain and Weakness

Pain that radiates to the biceps muscle, located in the front of the upper arm, may indicate a herniated disc at C5-C6, a common location for disc herniations. The biceps on the affected side may be weak, which manifests as decreased strength when bending the elbow and lifting or pulling an object toward the body. Numbness or tingling may accompany these symptoms, characteristically extending down the thumb-side of the arm, notes Dr. Richard Staehler on the patient information website

Triceps Pain and Numbness

A cervical disk herniation at C6-C7 can cause radiating pain to the triceps muscle, located at the back of the upper arm. The tricep is responsible for straightening the arm at the elbow. Numbness or tingling extending to the fingertips and the middle finger may accompany triceps pain, according to Dr. Staehler. C6-C7 is a common site for a cervical herniated disc, also known as a protruded, ruptured, slipped or prolapsed disc.

Leg Weakness, Numbness and Urinary Disturbance

A large cervical disc herniation may compress the spinal cord, a condition termed cervical myelopathy. Symptoms often include leg weakness and numbness, which may cause walking difficulties. Urinary urgency, frequency and incontinence may also occur, notes the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases Spine Center.

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