C5-C6 cervical disc herniation: causes, symptoms and treatments

This article offers information about C5-C6 cervical disc herniation from the experts in spinal pathologies at Instituto Clavel. In this article we explain the main causes of this pathology, the symptoms, and the various treatment options. 

The cervical vertebrae are subjected to a lot of stress throughout the day, so it is not unusual to feel stiffness or discomfort in the area at some point. Most often, the sufferer notices contracted muscles in the neck. However, as time passes, and wear and tear on the spine continues, more serious injuries such as disc herniation can appear. 

When a disc herniates, the fibrous outer ring of the disc ruptures and the soft inner material, known as the nucleus pulposus, bulges out to press on a nerve. This causes pain and a variety of other symptoms as we will see below. In the case of a C5-C6 cervical disc herniation, pressure is exerted on the C6 nerve root. This is one of the most common levels of the cervical spine at which disc herniations occur. 

Causes of C5-C6 cervical disc herniation 

Generally, herniated discs are caused by the natural wear and tear on the intervertebral discs. This process is called disc degeneration, and it occurs over time as discs lose flexibility and are more likely to rupture. 

In the case of the cervical vertebrae, as we said at the beginning of the article, this is a portion of the spine that is subjected to a lot of tension as we go about our normal daily activities. If you add to that a habit of poor posture or excessive straining, a hernia is much more likely to occur. These are some of the risk factors: 

  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Poor daily posture habits 
  • Work activity that involves spending many hours sitting in front of the computer, performing great physical effort or carrying heavy weight. 
  • Smoking, because it reduces the oxygen supply to the intervertebral disc 
  • Accidents or injury affecting the cervical spine  

Symptoms of C5-C6 cervical disc herniation 

When a cervical disc herniates, the main symptom is localized or radiating pain. However, each vertebral segment can be characterized by specific symptoms. In the case of herniation of the C5-C6 disc, the symptoms are as follows: 

  • Weakness in the biceps. 

  • Pain, numbness and tingling that runs down the arm, to the forearm, even to the thumb and index finger. 

  • Sometimes, and especially in the case of large hernias that compress and injure the spinal cord, difficulty in moving the arms and legs or problems with urination. 

When any of these symptoms appear, it is important to see a specialist to determine if the problem is a herniated disc or there some other pathology responsible for the symptoms. 

Do you need a medical evaluation of your case? We can help you. 

Treatment options for C5-C6 cervical disc herniation 

The treatment options for a herniated disc will depend on the symptoms the patient has, the period of time elapsed since the onset of symptoms, and any treatments that have been carried out previously. In any case, there are two basic categories of treatment: conservative and surgical. 

Conservative treatments include pain medications, specialized physical therapy or rehabilitation, and changing habits in daily life. Normally, at Instituto Clavel we try this option first to avoid more invasive treatments. 

Before considering surgical treatment, techniques such as cervical rhizolysis (controlled “damage” to the nerve fibers transmitting pain, through application of heat) or epidural infiltrations to reduce the pain caused by the hernia, may also be indicated. In the case of infiltrations, it is possible to do up to three procedures, leaving a period of time of 1 to 4 weeks between each procedure. However, if, when a patient comes to us, they have already tried this type of treatment without success, or if their symptoms are very serious, we omit this step. 

When conservative treatment options are not effective, there is the option of surgery. Cervical microdiscectomy combined with artificial disc replacement (ADR), also known as arthroplasty, is the technique of preference at Instituto Clavel whenever possible and the patient's anatomy allows it. This is because with this procedure it is possible to decompress the damaged spinal nerve root and preserve cervical mobility, reducing the risk of future problems appearing in other cervical vertebrae over time.  

Microdiscectomy for cervical fusion is another valid option that consists of decompressing the nerve root and replacing the damaged disc with a solid device to immobilize the affected segment, in this case the C5-C6. All of these surgical treatments are minimally invasive procedures that allow a rapid recovery of the patient: generally, patients are discharged within 48 hours and can fully return to their usual activities between 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. 

At Instituto Clavel, we always choose the most appropriate technique based on a personalized diagnosis of each case and each patient. 

Find out more about cervical disc herniation 

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