The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae; seven of which make up the cervical spine. Discs are located in between each vertebrae and act as a cushion to help absorb shock. The discs are made up of two layers. The outer layer is a fibrosis material referred to as the annulus and the inner layer, which is made up of a softer material, is called the nucleus. A diffuse cervical bulge occurs when the annulus tears and the soft material of the nucleus protrudes or bulges out of a large portion of the disc.
Not everyone with a diffuse cervical bulge will experience symptoms. However, because the bulge can press on nerves in the spine, various symptoms can occur. Symptoms may include pain in the neck, which can radiate into the shoulders, arms and hands. A person may also have tingling or numbness in the hands.
All causes of a diffuse cervical bulge are not found. Some people may have weaker discs genetically and be more prone to developing a bulge in the spinal discs. Injuries to the cervical area from a fall, car accident or heavy lifting may cause a diffuse cervical budge on some people.
A diagnosis is made after a physical exam by a physician. The doctor will take a medical history and test range of motion. Usually an MRI will be ordered of the spine to determine the location of the diffuse cervical bulge. Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms.
If symptoms are minor, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication may help or steroids may be prescribed. For individuals who have more severe pain, epidural or steroid injections into the cervical area may reduce pain. Other treatments may include, heat and ice therapy. Ice can reduce inflammation and heat may relax the muscles. Physical therapy may be recommended to improve flexibility and stretch the neck.
For individuals who are not helped by other less invasive approaches, surgery may be an obtain. A procedure called a discectomy may be performed. This involves removing the part of the disc which is bulging or pressing on the nerve.
It may not be possible to prevent a diffuse cervical bulge in all cases; however, there are a few things that may reduce the risk. Using proper lifting techniques, such as bending at the knee and not straining the neck muscles may help. Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise, which strengthens the entire spine including the cervical area, may keep the discs healthy. Avoid smoking which can weaken spinal discs.