What Is a Herniated Cervical Disc?

A herniated cervical disc happens when the cushiony center of a disc at the top of your spine pushes through its casing, causing irritation to nearby nerves in the spinal canal. Discs are located along your spinal column, in between the vertebrae (bones) in your back.

It is not the same condition as a herniated lumbar disc. In fact, it is less common.

What Are Symptoms of a Herniated Cervical Disc?

Signs of a herniated cervical disc often begin with pain in your neck or upper limbs. It can come on suddenly or be chronic.

Other signs include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased neck or upper limb pain when you move or extend your neck
  • Inability to move your elbow or arm
  • Reduced or disappearance of tricep and/or bicep movement
  • Numbness or tingling in your thumb or certain fingers

If you have symptoms of a herniated disc, book an appointment online with Prof. Pier Paolo Maria Menchetti at UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital for a diagnosis and treatment options.

How is a Herniated Disc Diagnosed?

Your spine specialist may order an MRI. They may also order a CT scan. These tests will help the specialist confirm a diagnosis and assess the state of the discs in your spinal column. Your doctor may also order an EMG, which measures muscle strength.

What are Treatment Options for a Herniated Cervical Disc?

To treat a herniated disc, you may consider non-surgical options or surgery.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Your treatment will depend on your specialist’s diagnosis, but in most cases, pain resolves in 4- 8 weeks once you have been placed on a course of anti-inflammatory drugs. These may include corticosteroids followed by non-corticosteroids that are administered in decreasing doses over a period of time. You also may be prescribed physical therapy. In most cases, you will not need to wear a cervical collar.


If non-surgical options do not reduce pain or muscle weakness, your spine specialist may consider surgery. Options include:

  • Percutaneous Surgery: This is a radiologic option for patients with significant upper limb pain but good muscle strength. With this approach, a surgeon inserts a small probe into the damaged disc to repair the hernia, the area of the disc from where the soft cushion of the disc is leaking. This often reduces the pressure on the disc or the nerve.
  • Nucleoplasty: This option uses a probe that is inserted into the damaged disc. Once inserted, the probe uses a radiofrequency to destroy the damaged part of the disc. This procedure often produces immediate pain relief and has a success rate of approximately 70%.
  • Open Surgery: If open surgery is the best option, your spine specialist will make a small incision in the front of your neck, repair the hernia, and fuse adjacent vertebrae together. In some cases, a small piece of bone substitute or other substance may be inserted to promote healing. Following surgery, you should experience quick relief, first in your limbs and then in your neck. Your surgeon will determine whether you’ll need to wear a neck collar following your procedure.

You should talk to your surgeon and make sure all your questions are answered prior to surgery.

Spine Center at UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital

The Spine Center at UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital is an innovative and multispecialty center for the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders and diseases. For a diagnosis and treatment options, book an appointment online today with Prof. Pier Paolo Maria Menchetti.