Cervical herniated discs are an injury that we treat often in the clinic. Arising from car accidents, falls, repetitive exercise, trauma, and age (to name a few), the amount of limitations and severity of symptoms will vary between patients. As someone who has experienced multiple bouts of symptomatic episodes from a C6/7 herniation, I can empathize with those experiencing its stubborn and unrelenting symptoms.  

Occurring when the soft gel-like material within the cervical discs protrudes and presses against nearby nerves, this injury can often result in pain, tingling, and weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Some may even find it challenging to perform even simple daily tasks such as turning their head while driving, sleeping, buttoning a shirt and reading, ultimately affecting their overall quality of life. While surgical interventions are sometimes necessary for severe cases, physical therapy and conservative medical care can offer an effective approach to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and promote long-term healing. 

When a patient comes in with this injury, one of the first steps is to manage the pain and activities that trigger the onset of symptoms. This often includes a period of practical and active rest, proper hydration, releasing tension of local muscle spasms, the application of ice, heat and/or electrical stimulation, and encouraging pain-free movement. Soon after, techniques such as nerve mobilization, cervical traction, McKenzie exercises, gentle cervical stretching, and light strengthening of the shoulder muscles may be used. As the symptoms become more predictable and manageable, isometric strengthening the muscles of the front and rear of the spine including will be introduced, developing the smaller bands of muscles that help to both stabilize and mobilize the neck. 

Unlike typical musculoskeletal strains and sprains, injuries involving the nerve roots of the spine can take, frustratingly, longer to heal. Therefore, both consistency and patience of the rehab process is critical. As epidurals and the recurring discussions of pursuing surgery were added to my list of already checked boxes of nerve pain medication and muscle relaxers, I had moments of hopelessness along the way. However, after months of rehab, help from my colleagues, and implementation of lifestyle modifications, I was able to make a full recovery. 

The information in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms it is important to contact a medical professional to discuss your personalized treatment options before starting care. 

By: Clifford Bachiman PT, DPT 

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