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Cervical Disc Herniation Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Neck and upper back pain with radiation are a common occurrence for many athletes, especially as they age. A herniated cervical disc is often the reason for this pain. When the disc herniates or ruptures, this puts pressure on the nerves in the spinal column resulting in pain often radiating down the arm.

Cervical Disc Herniation Hero Image 2

Neck and upper back pain are a common occurrence for many athletes, especially as they age. A herniated cervical disc is often the reason for this pain. Your spine is formed by vertebrae, which are bones that stack on top of one another to form your spinal column. Between the vertebrae are discs that act as cushions and help give your back flexibility and range of motion. The discs near the neck are called the cervical discs. These discs are hard on the outside, but soft and jelly-like in the center. Cervical discs can rupture due to aging and other factors. When this happens, the soft center pushes through the outside. This puts pressure on the nerves in the spinal column, resulting in pain.

What causes Cervical Disc Herniation?

There are different factors that can cause a cervical disc herniation. With aging, cervical discs can become weakened due to long-term wear and tear. A herniated disc can happen due to overuse, such as lifting something heavy or turning your neck suddenly. Less often, a traumatic injury to the head or neck can also cause this injury.

Cervical disc hernias are most common in these sports:

  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Golf



Symptoms of a herniated disc will depend on the disc’s location along the spine. Cervical disc herniation usually causes pain in the neck and arms. Sometimes a herniated disc can just cause arm pain, numbness, and weakness without neck pain. Common symptoms also include:

  • Pain with coughing or sneezing
  • Sharp, shooting pain in the arm
  • Numbness in the arm
  • Muscle weakness in the arm

When to see a doctor

People with neck, shoulder or arm pain should see their doctor, especially if the pain doesn’t get better within a few days. At your visit, your doctor will conduct a physical examination to see if you have pain when your turn your head or bend your neck, and check for other signs of cervical disc herniation.

Your doctor may also order x-rays to look at your spine to see if something other than a herniated disc is causing your pain. Other imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, can also help confirm a diagnosis.

Non-operative treatment

Treatment of cervical disc herniation is usually successful with non-surgical measures. Conservative treatments include:

  • Rest from activities and sports.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to help relieve pain and inflammation
  • Muscle relaxers for spasm
  • A soft collar around the neck
  • Physical therapy

Try these exercises to help address your condition:

Below is a PDF of the Exercise Program

Cervical Disc Herniation


Surgical Treatment

If conservative treatments don’t resolve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair a herniated disc.


Recovery from cervical disc herniation can take several weeks. Physical therapy will play an important role in the rehabilitation process.