Injury of the Week # 7: Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine (Neck)

What is it?

Degenerative disc disease can happen anywhere along the vertebrae in our body, however I will highlight when it occurs in the neck, otherwise known as the cervical spine.

We have discs between each vertebrae, and over time these discs can start to thin out and ‘degenerate’ from overuse.

When do you notice the pain?

Depending on the severity of the disc disease, your pain will vary.

With more progressed disc disease, you may notice the pain with coughing or sneezing. This is because when you cough or sneeze, you increase the pressure within the discs, which can cause the disc to be ‘pushed’ out of place and press on a nerve.

You may also feel pain with flexion (looking down).

Where does it hurt?

It may hurt on the vertebrae of your neck, where the disc lesion is located. It also can press on the nerves exiting the spine and could radiate pain elsewhere such as the arms or the inner border of your shoulder blade.  

How does it happen?

It mainly happens from overuse, and is common in older individuals.

How can I help it go away?

I suggest seeking rehabilitation from your local health care professional such as an Athletic Therapist, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor etc, as they can provide traction on the cervical spine to help alleviate the pressure on the discs.

Sleeping position, workstation position (do you lean your head really far forward when you work or always looking down at your computer/phone?), and vertebral hypomobility (immobility) can all play a factor in helping managing the signs and symptoms of DDD.

BUT, therapeutic exercises and stretches as well as posture are very important as well!

Stretch of the Week for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine (Neck)

Upper Trap Stretch

This is my go-to neck stretch!

Sitting on your hand is the most important component of this stretch. And remember to always lean your head AWAY from the hand you are sitting on. This helps pin down the fascia (the covering of our muscles) to help get a more effective stretch.

Gently use your other hand to guide your ear to your shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3 times each stretch. Remember to do both sides!

PREHAB Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine (Neck):

Isometric Neck Flexion

This is an exercise for the neck flexors, which are the muscles in front of the neck. And although it looks funny it is very effective!

Press your hand into your forehead and gently match that resistance with your head. So as your hand presses in, your head is trying to move forward. With an isometric exercise, the muscle is contracting while there is no movement to the joint itself. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 3 sets of 10.

Commonly with our daily postures such as on a computer, looking at our phone, the flexors of the neck become weak. Therefore to make up for these regular postures it is important to strengthen the neck flexors!

REHAB Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine (Neck):

Neck Fascial Release

Place your hands on the collarbones where they meet your sternum and gently pull your hands downwards.

Then with your chin look up and back and you will feel tension/stretch along the front of your neck. Hold this position until you feel that sensation “melt” away. Then change the direction. You can look back and rotate the head. Whatever angle creates a nice stretching sensation, you should simply just hold it and repeat in other directions.

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Therapeutic Workout for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine (Neck):

With neck pain, I commonly prescribe exercises to help correct posture, as that is probably part of why their injury came up in the first place!

  1. Cat-Cow: This exercise addresses  flexion and extension of the C-spine as well as the T-spine. Aim for 3 sets of 20
  2. 2 arm row: I used this exercise in my shoulder impingement injury of the week, however it is so beneficial for posture! Squeeze those shoulder blades together 3 sets of 10-15
  3. Chest Stretch in Doorway: With a rounded posture, our chest muscles become very tight! Make an ‘L’ shape with your arm in a doorframe and lunge forward. Hold 20-30 seconds, 3 times.

That’s a wrap on Degenerative Disc Disease of the neck! If you are experiencing any pain similar to what I have described this week feel free to contact me for a virtual session, or try out some of these exercises on your own!

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