Between each vertebra lies a fibrocartilagenous structure called the intervertebral disc. This disc can be found at all levels of the cervical spine except for the first and second vertebra (atlas and axis). The disc is comprised of a series of outer fibrous rings (annulus fibrosis) and a soft center (nucleus pulposus). The walls of the disc are thinnest and weakest posterior laterally where the spinal nerves exit the spinal column. The disc serves as a joint between the vertebra, functions as a cushion and allows movement between the vertebra. Inflammation, damage or degeneration of a disc may produce loss of neck motion, pain radiating to the arm, numbness and weakness. The cervical fifth and sixth C5-C6 and cervical sixth and seventh C6-C7 levels have the highest rate of disc degeneration and herniation.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc disease is the progressive and gradual wear-and-tear of the intervertebral disc. This degeneration affects the outer annulus fibrosis and nucleus pulposus. As the disc wears there is loss of disc height and an increased likelihood of the development of bulging and herniated discs. Degeneration of the disc is normal as we age, but can be accelerated as a result of trauma, repetitive strain or injury, as well as musculo-skeletal imbalances like scoliosis. Disc degeneration itself may not be a problem, but the associated conditions that may develop as it progresses can be symptomatic and debilitating.