A Slipped Disc in the Neck Can Affect Swallowing, Breathing, and Voice

Person holding hand up to throat in pain

If a patient is experiencing neck pain along with difficulties swallowing, breathing, or speaking, a slipped disc in the neck could be to blame. To prevent further damage, treatment of the slipped disc may be required. Patients in northern New Jersey should turn to Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO), a multi-specialty provider of comprehensive medical care for brain, nerve, and spine conditions, including slipped discs. Here, the CNSO team discusses how a slipped disc in the neck can affect swallowing, breathing, and vocal abilities.

What Is a Slipped Disc?

A slipped disc, also called a herniated or bulging disc, occurs when the discs that make up the spinal cord weaken or tear. This allows the soft interior, called the nucleus pulposus, to move out of position and put pressure on the surrounding structures, including nerve roots and the spinal cord. Slipped discs can occur at any spine level but are most common in the neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar). Often, slipped discs can heal on their own over time. However, some may require treatment if they are causing serious symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of a Slipped Disc

The symptoms of a slipped disc will depend on where the herniation is in the spine. Often, symptoms can improve with rest and worsen with activity. Symptoms related to the two most common kinds of slipped discs include:

Slipped Lumbar Disc

When a disc in the lumbar spine herniates, it can cause pain in the lower back and buttocks, sciatic nerve pain that radiates to the legs, tingling in the limbs, and muscle weakness.

Slipped Cervical Disc

When a disc slips in the neck, the pain can be noticeable in the neck, shoulder blades, and arms. The pain may worsen when the patient coughs, sneezes, or moves in a certain way. It can also lead to numbness and tingling in the arms and hands.

Some research has shown that age-related changes to the cervical spine, including herniated discs, have been linked to swallowing difficulties. Spinal misalignment, another common side effect of slipped discs, can lead to nerve dysfunction and damage. If the nerve damage affects the throat, it can cause breathing difficulties, hoarseness, and potentially the loss of voice. In some cases, a ruptured disc can also cause bilateral paralysis.

Slipped Disc Causes and Risk Factors

Some activities and motions may make a person more likely to develop a slipped disc, including sitting for a long time in the same position, heavy lifting, or repetitive bending and twisting. These motions can all cause the discs to wear down more quickly, increasing the chances of a slipped disc. Other general risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing a slipped disc, including:

  • Age: People ages 30 to 50 are most likely to get a slipped disc.
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely to have a slipped disc than women.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight are at an increased risk of having a slipped disc.

Although these risk factors can increase the risk of a person having a slipped disc, not everyone with these factors will have one. People can attempt to reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy weight, using proper lifting techniques, and staying active.

Treatments for a Slipped Disc

In 90% of patients with a slipped disc, the condition will heal on its own with little to no medical intervention. Usually, patients can manage their slipped disc at home with rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and applying heat and ice to the area. Additionally, medical providers can prescribe physical therapy or spinal injections to provide pain relief and heal debilitating symptoms.

If a patient has moderate to severe pain or other symptoms that interfere with their daily life, a more invasive treatment method may be recommended, like spine surgery. There are multiple surgical procedures used to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, including a discectomy, laminectomy, or an artificial disc replacement surgery.

Request an Appointment With a CNSO Spine Specialist

A slipped disc in the neck can lead to further complications if it is left untreated. Patients with slipped disc symptoms should contact the multidisciplinary specialists at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics for diagnosis and treatments, ranging from non-surgical to surgical methods.

With a comprehensive team of neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, CNSO ensures personalized care for each patient. Contact us today to request an appointment at one of our multiple office locations throughout northern New Jersey.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics