A herniated disc in the c5-c6 level of the spine can cause weakness in the biceps muscles of the arms and wrist extensor muscles as well as numbness and tingling along with pain that radiates to the thumb and fingertips. c5-c6 is one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation to occur.
A c5-c6 herniated disc can affect the nerves that control the muscles in the arms, neck, shoulders, hands as well as the head, eyes, ears, or thyroid gland. Symptoms in these areas in addition to pain in the neck is very common with c5-c6 disc herniations. Symptoms of c5-c6 disc herniation can include numbness, tingling, burning, weakness, problems with vision, and more.
The most common cause of a herniated disc is an injury or trauma, such as from an auto accident or work comp injury. Whether it be from a car accident, lifting something heavy, a sports-related injury, or something else entirely, this condition can be very painful and bothersome.
There is also a genetic component to this and other back conditions. If you have any other family members who suffer with spine pain or herniated/bulging discs, you could be predisposed you to disc herniation.
The C5 and C6 vertebrae and disc form an important motion segment near the base of the cervical spine. They serve the function of supporting the head as well as the upper extremities(arms) which attach to the spine via muscles and tendons in the neck. Due to this high load-bearing position, the C5 and C6 disc can be deeply affected by poor posture, injury, and trauma, leading to complications like disc herniation and bulging.
The C5 and C6 vertebrae of the spine are often called the stress vertebra because they sustain the majority of the weight from the neck and head. Both the C5 and C6 have a vertebral body, a vertebral arch, and two transverse processes. They produce paired, gliding synovial facet joints when they come together. Articulating cartilages are present on the joint surfaces of the C5 and C6 vertebrae to allow smooth movements and minimize resistance between the facet joint surfaces. The largest joint in the spine is the disc. Actually, 85% of the weight passing through the C5-6 motion segment goes through the disc itself while 15% passes through the facet joints.
The natural curvature of the spine consists of three distinct segments. This begins with an inward cervical curve at the base of the neck/upper back. Towards the middle of the back, the spine extends outwards into the thoracic curve before completing an ‘S’ like shape with the inward lumbar curve at the lower back. Natural spinal curvature must be maintained to avoid back deformation and conserve flexibility in the spine. However, any conditions affecting the C5 and C6 vertebrae, particularly the C5-C6 disc, can lead to adverse spinal tension, thus changing the spine’s natural curvature.
The C5-C6 disc is located at the joint between the C5 and C6 vertebral bodies. It shares a similar structure with other intervertebral discs, such as the C4-C5 and the C6-C7 discs. The disc composition includes a nucleus pulposus enclosed in a firm tissue called the annulus fibrosus. Herniation occurs in the disc when there is an annular tear in the surrounding outer tissue, causing the jelly-like nucleus to squeeze through the annular tear and even into the nerve canal. The C5-6 disc is the most common location of cervical spine disc herniations followed by C6-7 and then C4-5 herniations. The annular tear is the actual source of neck pain and inflammation in the posterior annular tear is the actual anatomical source.
The C6 nerve root is responsible for many sensory and motor activities in the arms. It is located between the C5 and C6 vertebrae and extends into the neck via the intervertebral foramen. This nerve has sensory and motor roots that control muscles and skin tissue in the biceps, wrists, and forearms. The most common effects of C5-C6 disc herniation are pain and numbness in these parts of the upper body. Biceps muscle weakness is a common sign of C6 nerve compression from a herniated disc at C5-6.
The C5-C6 disc is susceptible to several injuries and conditions. This is primarily due to its position as a critical intervertebral member supporting the two ‘stress’ vertebrae members that carry the weight of the head. The most common of these potential neck spine complications is disc herniation.
The C5-C6 segment is one of the sections of the spine that is most prone to disorders originating from poor posture or traumatic injuries like whiplash. Many individuals have been unconsciously conditioned to constantly bend the head forward, especially when engaging in tasks that involve looking at screens. This is termed ‘forward head posture’, and it is known to put an uncomfortable amount of shear stress on the upper back and lower neck vertebrae. When this position is sustained over extended periods, the natural cervical curve of the lower neck begins to straighten, putting pressure on the intervertebral discs and the surrounding nerves. This is what usually degenerates into a herniated disc condition, specifically in the C5-C6 disc.
However, in most cases, herniation of the C5-C6 disc can be related to injury and neck trauma caused by accidents. It is also possible to relate the development of this condition to the natural wear and tear of the intervertebral discs as the human body ages.
The most common symptom of C5-C6 disc herniation is a pain in the lower neck. This can either be a piercing periodic pinch or a constant vibrating ache at the back of the neck. Due to this pain, certain neck movements can become difficult and/or uncomfortable, thereby limiting the patient’s range of motion. Patients might also notice crepitus in the neck where grinding and cracking sounds are perceived as the neck joints are moved. Headaches are also commonly related to herniated discs in the cervical spine. We call these headaches “cervico-genic” because they originate from a herniated disc in the neck and are frequently paired with neck pain.
The pain experienced in the neck zone can also extend to other parts of the upper body. It usually moves in a radicular pattern from the base of the neck to the arms, where patients will experience sharp aches in the shoulders and hands. Joints in these regions are also likely to be weakened, specifically the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints. Numbness and loss of normal sensations in the forearms and fingers can also point to a C5-C6 disc herniation, as the C5-C6 nerve root controls this area of the skin.
While these symptoms can be good indicators of a potential disc herniation, it is always advisable to consult a seasoned medical practitioner for a proper diagnosis. The diagnostic process often involves a CT or MRI scan, through which the location and severity of the herniated disc can be adequately assessed.
There are a plethora of non-surgical treatment options for C5-C6 disc herniation. Each of these options carries pros and cons; hence recovery time will vary widely depending on the course pursued by the patient. They include physical therapy, prescription medication, and injections.
Post-diagnosis, the surgeon can prescribe the most appropriate treatment method for the herniated disc condition. Many times, a simple change in posture supported by neck braces can be sufficient to eliminate minor symptoms associated with C5-C6 disc herniation. Manual therapy is also a viable option, and patients can fully recover over days or weeks.
In advanced cases where symptoms might include neck pain that persists past 2 months, arm or leg weakness or numbness, partial paralysis and bowel and bladder control loss, surgery is the most effective solution. Similar to the non-surgical treatments, there is a large variance in the surgical procedures available for the treatment of C5-C6 herniated discs. Patients are advised to consult with experienced surgeons for valid information on each process as they consider the available options. The eventual choice of procedure should depend not only on the extent of the disc condition but also on the overall impact on the spinal health and wellbeing of the patient.
Surgical treatments available for herniated discs at C5-6 include minimally invasive endoscopic laser repair, spinal fusion and artificial discs. Spinal fusion like ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy and fusion) or PCDF (posterior cervical decompression and fusion) require large painful and bloody incisions, metal screws, plates and cages, as well as long recovery times with months of opioid painkiller use and long periods of time off work. Artificial discs can dislodge and even fuse themselves from the inflammation they cause. The safest and least invasive surgery in the world to treat a C5-C6 disc herniation with a 99% success rate is the Deuk Laser Disc Repair. This is an FDA approved surgery that has been peer reviewed and published as safe and effective in the treatment of symptomatic cervical disc herniations.
Several physical exercises serve the purpose of strengthening the cervical spine and reducing neck pain and stiffness. Some of these include resistance exercises and neck stretches designed to loosen the neck muscles.
Poor posture is one of the main causes of C5-C6 disc herniation. Taking measures to improve work and sleep head positioning can also help prevent complications in the neck spine. Consider investing in ergonomic chairs and contour pillows that have special design features to support the neck curvature. These minor lifestyle improvements make a big difference in overall spine health.
At Deuk Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive surgical techniques and comprehensive spine treatments to cure back and neck pain. Our world-class physicians are personally invested in the well-being of every patient. Start your treatment with us today by submitting your MRI online for a free remote review to determine your candidacy for surgery. You can also visit one of our locations in person by calling patient services at 321-255-6670.