Disk herniation in the neck can cause arm pain and dysfunction. Most of the time these symptomatic herniation are treated by non-surgical means. These treatments can include medication, traction, and therapy. All of the treatments are designed to relieve the pain that is radiating down the arm. In most people no further treatment is needed to relieve the symptom and return you to activity. However, in some, spinal injections are used to relieve the arm pain.
Surgery is the treatment for patients whom the above treatments are not effective in relieving their symptom. The surgery for cervical disk herniation is typically well tolerated. It can be an outpatient surgery in some. More typically, however, the surgery involves an overnight stay. The disk herniation is removed from the front of the neck. The bones on either side of the disk are locked together or an artificial disk is placed where the injured disk normally would reside.
Recovery is relatively quick for most people. Normal function without limitations is typically achieved within 3 months of the surgery. In most patients it is sooner than that. Physical therapy is usually started 2 weeks after surgery. This assists in retraining the muscles and decreasing the pain from surgery. For those undergoing fusion, release to usual activities is typical at 6 weeks. In disk replacement, no limitations of activities or any significant restrictions are placed.
Thoracic disk herniations are rarely symptomatic. Therefore, they are rarely operated. No treatment is usually initiated since they are typically not causing symptoms. However, in the rare instance that a thoracic disk herniation is causing symptoms, conservative treatments are the mainstay. These include therapy, medications and spinal injections.
In those instances where thoracic disk herniations are symptomatic, surgical intervention can be used to relieve the pressure of the disk on the spinal cord and nerve. Sometimes, this may require a spinal fusion or stabilization procedure as well. This can lead to a more prolonged recovery than in the neck or low back surgery.