Everything You Need to Know About Cervical Herniated Disc Injuries
Neck injuries can be extremely painful and debilitating. Some of the most common injuries of the neck occur at the C4/C5 and C5/C6 vertebrae. A herniated disc at either of these locations can result in long-term impairments, which can impact a person’s work and daily activities.
What Makes Up the Cervical Spine?
The bones that make up your spine are called vertebrae. The vertebrae in the neck are numbered C1 through C7. These stacked bones serve several purposes.
The bones in the neck provide support for your head and allow you to move your head in different directions. They also protect the spinal column that connects the brain to the rest of the body. It also helps facilitate blood flow to the brain.
The vertebrae do not work alone to protect the spinal column and allow movement of the head and neck. Between each of the bones is a cushion-like material known as intervertebral discs. Intervertebral discs have two parts.
The inner part of the disc is the nucleus pulposus. It is made up of a gel-like substance. The outer portion of the intervertebral disc is made up of fibers that protect the inner portion of the disc.
Together, the gel-like center and the tougher outside annulus fibrosus work to absorb shocks caused by movements of the head and neck. The discs also cushion the cervical vertebrae.
What Causes Herniated Discs at C4/C5 and C5/C6?
A herniated disc occurs when a portion of the inner part of the disc leaks through the outer section. The fluid from the disc can cause extreme pain when it leaks onto the nerves of the cervical spine because of the inflammatory proteins contained in the disc.
Tears and other injuries to the outer fibers of the disc can allow the center of the disc to leak out. Common causes of herniated discs at between the C4/C5 and C5/C6 vertebrae include:
- Car accidents
- Lifting heavy objects
- Truck accidents
- Wear and tear from aging (disc degeneration)
- Bicycle accidents
- Work-related repetitive motions
- Pedestrian accidents
- Motorcycle crashes
- Recreational activities and sports
- Assaults and violence
Any sharp twist to the neck can put pressure on the discs, which can cause tears and damage that allow the inner portion of the disc to bulge out between the vertebrae and leak fluid into the spinal column.
Symptoms of C4/C5 and C5/C6 Herniated Discs
Pain is the most common symptom caused by herniated discs at C4/C5 and C5/C6. Some individuals might experience sharp pains or constant burning pain. Tenderness in the neck around the C4/C5 and C5/C6 vertebrae is also a common symptom of a herniated cervical disc.
In some cases, pain from a C4/C5 and C5/C6 herniated disc can cause pain to radiate down through the neck. The pain may continue through the shoulders, arms, and hands. Tingling, numbness, and weakness are also common symptoms of a cervical herniated disc.
The symptoms may intensify with certain activities or movements. For instance, turning your head in a specific direction may cause sharp pain. Lifting heavy objects could also intensify the pain and symptoms of a herniated cervical disc.
A herniated disc’s location also determines symptoms, which can help identify the location of the cervical injury. If the disc between C4/C5 becomes herniated, the person typically experiences weakness and pain in the deltoid muscles and throughout the shoulder. Some patients report tingling and numbness with a C4/C5 herniated disc, but it is uncommon.
Numbness and tingling are more common with a C5/C6 herniated disc. The person may also experience pain and weakness in the biceps, hands, and forearms. Some people experience a limited range of motion with a herniated disc between C5 and C6.
Diagnosing and Treating Cervical Herniated Discs
Physical examinations help physicians identify the symptoms of a C4/C5 and C5/C6 herniated disc. The doctor tests the person’s reflexes, range of motion, balance, and sensory loss, among other things. Imagining tests, including CT scans, x-rays, and MRIs, can help diagnose a herniated cervical disc.
Depending on the location of the injury and the symptoms, a doctor may develop a treatment plan that includes one or more of the following:
- Muscle relaxers
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
- NSAIDs for swelling and pain
- Epidural steroid injections or nerve root injections
If the symptoms do not improve or the person develops additional symptoms, the physician may recommend surgery. Cervical surgery may also be necessary in cases involving loss of bladder or bowel control and trouble walking or standing.
Personal injury claims involving C4/C5 and C5/C6 herniated discs can be complicated. Insurance companies often allege that victims are exaggerating their symptoms. A personal injury lawyer can evaluate the claim and help build a strong case for compensation of damages.