Cervical Disk Problems

The spine has 3 natural curves. The cervical curve is located in the neck. It forms the top part of the spine. For this reason, it is also called the cervical spine. This sheet tells you more about the parts of the cervical spine and damaged disks. This is a common problem that can affect the cervical spine, but most people don't need surgery for this. 

A healthy cervical spine

The spine is made up of the following:

Image of a healthy cervical spine

  • Vertebrae. These are bones stacked like building blocks that make up the spine. The neck contains the first 7 vertebrae of the spine.

  • Disks. These are small pads of tissue that lie between the vertebrae. They help cushion and protect the vertebrae and allow your spine to move.

  • The spinal cord. This is nervous tissue that runs through a large central opening (spinal canal) formed by the vertebrae.

  • Nerves. These branch out from the spinal cord and carry messages to the body.

  • Foramina. These are smaller openings on each side of in the vertebrae. Nerves travel to your arms and other parts of your body from the spinal cord through these openings.

Damaged disks in the cervical spine

Top image is of a herniated disk and lower image is of bone spurs

One of the most common cervical spine problems is a damaged disk. A disk may be injured by a sudden movement, causing a disk to bulge or break open (herniate). Or a disk may wear out slowly over time (degenerate). A worn-out disk may become so flat that the vertebrae above and below it touch or slip back and forth. As disks wear out, abnormal bone growths (bone spurs) can form on the vertebrae. Bone spurs can also form in the foramina, causing them to narrow (stenosis) and impinge the nerve root. If your healthcare provider suspects that you have a damaged disk, tests may be done to confirm the problem, such as an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), flexion-extension X-ray films, or electromyography (EMG). Your healthcare provider will then work with you to plan treatment as needed.