Symptoms of a neck hernia
The most important symptom of a neck herniation is, as said before, a severe pain that irradiates into the arm and sometimes even into the hand. In most cases also the neck itself is sore. The pain can escalate through coughing, sneezing and pushing, which is very typical for pain due to a hernia. Turning the head or bending the neck can also increase the pain in the arm. It is often a sharp and stinging kind of pain and there can be a tingling sensation all throughout the arm or hand. It is also possible for certain areas to become numb, and the strength in the muscles can decrease as well. In a worst case scenario, the muscle strength in the legs even diminishes. If that happens, medical care must be sought immediately.
Causes of a neck hernia
When an intervertebral disc bursts or is pushed out of its cover, a part of that can compress a nerve. That nerve then sends out pain signals. Because of the ongoing pressure, the nerve swells and becomes even more compressed. That causes the pain to worsen. The nerve fills itself with inflammatory cells and the pain keeps getting worse and can even become chronic. If the nerve that runs towards the arm is under pressure for a long time, the brain does not process the pain signals correctly anymore. Because of that it feels like the pain is coming from the arm or hand, while in fact the actual problem is located in the neck area.
Because of the ageing process, an intervertebral disc can start bulging and it may even rip at one point. The inside of the disc is then pushed forward into the direction of the spinal canal, where the nerve root is located. This ageing process is perfectly normal and happens to everyone, so anyone can develop a neck herniation. These problems do tend to be more common in certain families though, so genetics probably play a role. Smoking also seems to influence the development of a neck hernia and it especially seems to affect the severity of the condition.
Diagnosing a neck hernia
When the pain irradiates into an arm, and when it gets worse due to coughing, sneezing or pushing, then a neck herniation is probably causing the problems. The physician will do some neurological tests, to determine if a herniated disc is indeed the cause. In most cases, the combination of the patients complaints and the examinations provide a clear image, so further research is not necessary.
When in doubt about the diagnosis, or when a surgery is an option because of the severity of the problem (paralysis can also be a symptom), an MRI-scan can be useful. Usually the herniation is clearly visible on an MRI. Another possibility is a muscle examination, to determine exactly which nerve is under pressure.
How to treat a neck hernia
It might sound strange, but waiting and using painkillers is the best treatment in case of a non-complex neck herniation. The problem usually disappears within a couple of weeks or months. Paracetamol and Brufen-like drugs can help to relieve the pain. Another helpful agent is the painkilling and anti-inflammatory supplement Normast®. In a large-scale study, this turned out to be very successful in treating herniated disc pain. On top of that, it has no side effects because it is a natural agent.
In case of serious refractory pain, which means the pain is not susceptible to painkillers, an anaesthesiologist can perform a nerve blockade. He or she will inject a sedative, and if that has the desired effect the nerve can be numbed through a so-called PRF-procedure (Pulsed Radio Frequency). It is minimally invasive and prevents the nerve from transmitting pain signals. Neurosurgeons will not operate unless extremely severe symptoms start occurring, such as a loss of strength in arms or legs, or incontinence.