As in treatment for herniated discs of the lumbar spine, the first line or treatment for cervical radiculopathy due to a cervical herniated disc is generally a couple days of rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
If the pain is severe and/or continues for more than a couple of weeks, oral steroids can be useful to decrease inflammation. Oral narcotic agents can be added for severe pain, but should only be taken for a short time (less than two weeks).
If the pain lasts for more than two to four weeks, conservative (nonsurgical) treatments may include:
- Physical therapy for exercises to help relieve the pressure on the nerve root
- Chiropractic treatments for manual manipulation to help relieve the pressure on the nerve root
- Manual traction to help open up the cervical foramen where the nerve root exits the spinal canal. If this therapy helps relieve the pain, a home traction unit can be prescribed. Traction should be initiated under a physical therapist's supervision.
For pain that does not get better with medical and physical treatments, epidural injections may be considered. Epidural injections effectively relieve pain approximately 50% of the time, and if they do work they may be repeated every two weeks up to a total of three times within one year.
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If 6 to 12 weeks of conservative treatment fails to relieve the arm pain, then surgical removal of the disc may be reasonable.
An MRI scan or CT with myelogram can confirm the presence of a disc herniation and the level that is affected. If the patients symptoms and neurological deficit match the results of the scan, surgery is reliable in terms of relieving arm pain and has a low complication rate.
In This Article:
- Cervical Radiculopathy from a Herniated Cervical Disc
- Cervical Radiculopathy from a Herniated Disc Treatment Options
- Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video
The disc may be removed from the back of the neck (posterior approach) or from the front (anterior approach). Generally, surgeons favor the anterior approach for most cervical disc herniations.
- Anterior surgical approach for a herniated cervical disc may be favored if there is any disc space collapse, as the approach allows the surgeon to "jack open" the disc space and place a bone graft to keep it open. This procedure opens up the foramen, which gives the exiting nerve root more room
- Posterior surgical approach for a herniated cervical disc may be favored for a large soft disc that is lateral (to the side of) the canal
Both spine surgeries can usually be done with an overnight stay in the hospital.