A neck hernia means you have some nerves which are stuck in your neck. The soft elastic core of one or more intervertebral discs will then be protruding. This is because an intervertebral disc has collapsed, which weakens the wall of that disc. This gives the elastic core more space and the bulge presses on the nerves in your neck. This then causes the severe pain in your neck, arm and hand.
As is the case with a back hernia, there is no clear cause for the occurrence of the hernia. For example, a neck hernia could be caused by:
- Wear and tear.
- Frequent smoking.
- Old age.
- An accident and/or injury. This creates weak spots in the wall of the intervertebral discs.
A neck hernia is diagnosed with an X-ray and MRI scan.
A neck hernia may result in you suffering from:
- A stabbing or burning pain in your neck or shoulder.
- Tingling in your arm(s), hand(s) and/or fingers.
- Radiating pain in one or both arms.
- Pain which worsens when you cough, sneeze, or strain.
- Symptoms of paralysis or loss of sensation in your arms and/or hands.
- Sensation problems in your legs. This will happen in very serious cases. This will often mean your spinal cord is pinched too. This can make it difficult for you to pass stools and urinate.
A neck hernia usually recovers on its own and won’t go away any faster with exercises you may be given by a physiotherapist. However, a physiotherapist can provide you with advice regarding improving your posture, making sure the symptoms don’t worsen. The most important thing you can do is keep moving. Return to your normal daily activities as much as possible. We recommend taking painkillers for the pain. Take a paracetamol as a basis and, if necessary, supplement it with an anti-inflammatory. Examples include naproxen, diclofenac and ibuprofen. Carefully read the package leaflet before using these painkillers and, if in doubt, ask your GP for advice. The anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can have unpleasant side effects. So take these with caution. Some people with a neck hernia use special pillows and collars to support their neck. However, the effectiveness of this has not been proven. We recommend using a firm pillow or collar if you decide to use such a pillow or collar. Otherwise you won’t be supporting the neck.
Do you suspect you have a neck hernia? Please contact your GP to have this definitively confirmed. Have you already been diagnosed with a neck hernia? Then make an appointment with your GP if:
- The pain has not been reduced by the painkillers. Your GP may prescribe stronger medication, such as tramadol or morphine.
- Your symptoms have worsened.
- You still haven’t noticed any improvement after two months.
Are you suffering from additional symptoms? Contact your GP or the out-of-hours service urgently (during weekends) if:
- You can no longer use your arm(s) properly or if you can’t lift it/them up.
- You can hardly walk.
- You have problems urinating.
- You are unable to hold your urine or stools.
- You have lost sensation in your arms or legs.
- You get a dull and heavy feeling in your trunk or legs.
Your GP will advise you on the next steps and refer you to a neurologist in the hospital. In extreme cases this may mean you’ll require surgery. An injection in your neck can also help with the pain. The next appropriate step will be discussed with you.