Cervical disc disease is a chronic condition of the spine, in which one of the spinal discs in the neck deteriorate over time.
This article will discuss the details of what cervical disc disease is, the causes of the condition, symptoms associated with it, as well as the most effective treatment options available for relief.
But before we discuss all of that, we need to have a basic understanding of what the discs of the spine are, what their purpose is, and how they function.
The spinal discs are cushions that separate each set of bones in the spine. Their primary function is to absorb shock with movement, which prevents the bones from the spine from breaking and deteriorating.
Each spinal disc is composed of two parts a strong outer covering called the annulus, and a soft jelly center called the nucleus. When discussing cervical disc disease, it is very important that we talk about the nucleus in a little more detail, because this is actually where this condition occurs.
The nucleus, or jelly center of the disc, is very important, because this is where the disc will store oxygen and nutrition in order for the disc to stay healthy. One of the biggest problems with disc conditions is that they are very stubborn to heal.
The reason for this is that the spinal discs do not receive very good blood flow, which is the body,s normal way of transporting oxygen and nutrients to the body for proper healing. Because the spinal discs do not receive a lot of blood, they tend to be very difficult to heal, and usually develop into chronic conditions that create long term pain for the person suffering with it.
So, why are we discussing this? Well, because the discs of the spine do not receive a very good blood supply, the body depends on the jelly in the center of the disc to remain healthy so the disc can have enough oxygen and nutrients for healing.
This is where we can begin to discuss cervical disc disease in more detail, because what actually happens with this condition is that the jelly in the center of the disc will start to dehydrate. When the jelly begins to lose water, there is less jelly in the center of the disc, and the disc will begin to flatten, or become shorter.
This is a very serious problem for the spine, because these discs are absorbing shock, so if they start to lose their height, they are not as effective at this job. So, the brain will begin to perceive that there is a problem developing in the disc where this is occurring, and what it will do is start to add extra calcium to the edges of the bone above and below the involved disc.
The reason this occurs is because the brain is trying to stabilize this unstable condition, and the way it does that is be eventually fusing these bones together. So, the brain will cause the bones to develop spurs, which are just bony extensions coming off the edges of the bones. These spurs will eventually come together and fuse the bones above and below the degenerating disc to provide some stability.
Although this process makes sense to the brain, if you actually get to a point where these bones fuse, your spine will actually begin to deteriorate much more quickly because the other joints of the spine above and below this fusion have to work extra hard to make up for the lack of movement in the problem area.
The cause of cervical disc disease is most often some form of trauma. You have to realize that it takes many years for this condition to develop, so typically what happens is that you have an injury to your neck earlier in life (whether it be from a car accident, a sports injury, a fall, etc.), which causes the disc in the injured area to start the degenerative process.
This condition can also be caused by poor health habits, which leads to toxins building up in the body. For example, we know that smokers are more likely to develop cervical disc disease (and other deteriorating conditions of the spine) because of the levels of toxins in their bodies.
There is also a genetic component with this disease if you have a family history of arthritis of any kind in your family, you are more likely to develop this problem because cervical disc disease is simply a special type of arthritis that develops in the spine.
The symptoms that are most commonly associated with cervical disc disease are neck pain and stiffness, shoulder, arm and hand pain (which can be experienced as sharp pain, burning, pins and needles, or even numbness), weakness in the arms or hands, headaches, chest pains, fatigue, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, among other symptoms.
What's interesting about this condition (and any condition related to the spine) is how the pain can travel away from the problem area (in this case, the neck). The reason this happens is because the spinal nerves are exiting the spine right behind the spinal discs. These nerves control everything in the body, and if a disc starts to flatten, it will apply pressure on the nerve directly behind it.
When this occurs, whatever the nerve controls will begin to malfunction, because the spinal nerves are very sensitive to this type of pressure.
So, the ultimate question is, what can you do about this? Well, most doctors will recommend medications (usually anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers), physical therapy, pain injections (such as cortisone or epidurals), and surgery (as a last resort).
Unfortunately, many of these treatments only provide temporary relief, at best. One of the things I,ve learned after working with thousands of patients suffering with this condition is that it usually requires a combination of treatments to provide the best results, and most doctors are not aware of this.