Last Tuesday I performed an evaluation on a traumatic C7 Disc Herniation. The 29 year old male presented with neck pain, medial scapular pain, and decreased function of the triceps muscle. This is the first traumatic cervical disc herniation patient I have treated and I thought I would do some research on the topic prior to his 2nd visit.
It should be noted that traumatic is different from degenerative disc herniations, a component of DDD, which are present in "30-70% of all adults...as seen on Magnetic Resonance Imaging."
As many people know, traumatic cervical disc herniations are seen much less frequently than lumbar disc herniations. This is primarily due to less load bearing requirements of the C-spine, but also in part due to the physiological construct of the cervical disc. The annulus fibrosis, outer ring of the disc, is discontinuous and "does not have complete concentric rings that surround the nucleus." (Neumann 2010) Cervical discs herniate either posterior or posterolateral. They do not typically herniate purely lateral due the uncinate processes blocking this motion. When the disc herniates, it may result in compression of the spinal cord or "radiculopathy, marked by compression and inflammation of the cervical nerve root." With a posterolateral herniation, symptoms include either sharp or dull pain down the medial border of the scapula with radicular symptoms present in a dermatomal pattern of the suspected nerve root. In certain cases, "numbness or tingling may also replace pain as the primary presentation." (Yeung 2012) A physical examination can guide you to a diagnosis, but the best diagnostic test to confirm a disc herniation is a MRI.
Treatment of cervical disc herniations is a multimodal approach. Currently there is not a great deal of research regarding treatment options. I plan to treat this individual similar to a cervical radiculopathy patient. I will be using a cervical unloading device while performing active strengthening exercises and the appropriate manual therapy techniques. Additionally, I will be address scapular strength, nerve tension, and postural deficits that were found during the evaluation.
More to come,
References: Neumann, Donald A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Physical Rehabilitation. St. Louis: Mosby, 2010. Print.
Yeung, Jacky T., John I. Johnson, and Aftab S. Karim. "Cervical Disc Herniation Presenting with Neck Pain and Contralateral Symptoms: A Case Report." Journal of Medical Case Reports 6.1 (2012): 166. Web.