Cervical discogenic pain happens when there’s damage to one of the cushiony discs between the spinal bones in your neck. This can happen after an injury or from age-related degeneration.

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Cervical discogenic pain is a broad term referring to pain in your neck caused by damage to your intervertebral discs, the cushiony tissues in between your vertebrae (spinal bones). Cervical discogenic pain stems from the first seven vertebrae, which start at the base of your skull. This area at the top of your spine is known as your cervical spine.

Pain stemming from your cervical discs is relatively common and can have many causes. The most common cause is disc degeneration, which happens naturally as you age. Cervical discogenic pain can also result from injuries to your intervertebral discs that cause them to put pressure on the sensitive nerve roots in your neck.

Read on to learn more about what causes cervical discogenic pain, what symptoms to watch out for, and how this pain can be treated.

Your cervical spine is made of seven vertebral bones. In between each of these bones lies a flexible disc with a jelly-like center. These discs act as shock absorbers when you’re walking and running. They also help maintain your spinal structure, cushioning your vertebra as you bend and move.

Your spinal cord runs down the center of your cervical spine. From there, nerves branch out to different parts of your body, mostly your shoulders and arms but your chest and upper back too. These nerve roots are very sensitive. Any strain, injury, or swelling in your cervical discs can result in significant pain.

When a disc is damaged, it can protrude outward and push up against these nerves, causing pain in your neck that radiates out to your arms or shoulders.

One of the most common causes of this kind of pain is degeneration of your cervical discs. Degeneration becomes more common as people age and their joint tissues begin to wear down with time and use.

As your discs start to lose some of their size and shape, your body can respond by growing more bone around your vertebrae. These bony growths, known as bone spurs, can also put pressure on sensitive nerve roots.

Cervical discogenic pain can have many causes, including:

  • age-related degeneration of the discs between your cervical vertebrae
  • slipped (herniated) disc that pushes on surrounding nerves
  • neck strain from sitting in a position that causes your neck to slouch or push forward
  • repetitive neck motions (often from work-related activities)
  • whiplash or the other sudden movements of your head or neck
  • spinal injury
  • noncancerous or cancerous tumors in your neck or spine
  • infections in your cervical spine
  • damage to nerves from myelopathy due to spinal stenosis or other compression disorders

Your risk of cervical discogenic pain can be especially high if you’ve had a spine injury while playing sports or participating in athletic activities.

Some conditions that affect your joints can also increase your risk of cervical discogenic pain, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). This condition affects your body’s ability to produce collagen and can cause your joints to be unstable and more prone to injury or wear.

Some of the most common symptoms you might experience along with cervical discogenic neck pain include:

  • stiffness in your neck and shoulders
  • pain in your shoulders, especially when you move your neck around
  • pain in your arms and hands that shoots down from your neck
  • pain between your shoulder blades or even farther down your spine
  • a feeling of tightness when you move your upper body muscles
  • muscle spasms

If you go to a doctor or healthcare professional for pain in your neck, they’ll first ask you to specify exactly where you feel the pain. This can help the doctor assess the bones, tissues, and joints that may be involved in your pain.

They may ask you to move your head, neck, shoulders, or arms — to the extent that you feel it’s comfortable or safe — to see how different movements trigger pain or discomfort.

They’ll also perform a physical exam to look for any other signs of conditions like myelopathy, such as a lack of sensation in certain areas or having trouble staying balanced.

Some tests that might be performed during the physical exam can include:

  • Spurling test: The Spurling test involves extending and moving your neck toward the side that’s in the most pain.
  • Lhermitte’s sign test: The Lhermitte’s sign test involves moving your neck while sitting down to see if you feel any sudden intense pain or other sensations.
  • Shoulder abduction test: A shoulder abduction test involves extending your arm straight and then putting your hand on your head to see how it affects your pain.
  • Arm squeeze test: This test helps doctors distinguish a pinched nerve from other causes of shoulder pain that stem from the shoulder itself.

Other tests that a doctor might use to help them reach a diagnosis include:

  • Neck X-ray: A neck X-ray allows a doctor to examine your bones for any bone growths or bone injuries.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan allows a doctor to examine cross-sectional, detailed images of your neck and spine.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI allows a doctor to examine detailed, three-dimensional images of your spine and surrounding tissues.

A doctor may recommend medications to help you manage pain and swelling. They might also recommend corticosteroid injections into your cervical spine to reduce pain and inflammation while you heal.

Other treatments for cervical discogenic pain may include home treatments, physical therapy, and surgery.

Home treatment

Some common home treatments include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief while your neck heals
  • rest to reduce tension and strain on your neck
  • a heating pad or cold compress to reduce pain and swelling
  • improvement of posture while you’re sitting or standing
  • moving your head, neck, or shoulders more carefully to avoid triggering pain
  • light activities to strengthen your neck, such as lying on your back and moving your chin toward each shoulder

Physical therapy

A doctor may recommend physical therapy for chronic cervical discogenic pain or pain that’s difficult to treat. This therapy is usually focused on helping you learn to sit, stand, or walk in ways that reduce the strain on your neck.

McKenzie exercises are among the most common types of therapy used to treat cervical discogenic pain. These can be done at home or with a physical therapist to help you improve your spine mobility and posture.


Surgery is typically recommended if home treatment and physical therapy don’t work.

Some surgeries done to treat cervical discogenic pain include:

Here are some tips to help prevent cervical discogenic pain:

  • Don’t sit for long periods of time. Getting up at least once every hour will help you avoid putting to much pressure on your spinal vertebrae.
  • Consider a standing desk so that you can change your position and posture regularly.
  • Invest in a seat cushion to reduce compression on your spine.
  • Make sure you’re always looking straight ahead when you sit and work at a screen.
  • Stretch your upper body regularly — visit a chiropractor or massage therapist for additional help stretching and relaxing muscles.
  • Stretch before and after you exercise, especially if you’re using your upper body muscles.
  • Limit activities that involve significant use of your neck.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about cervical discogenic pain.

How long does cervical discogenic pain last?

When it’s not caused by a serious underlying condition, cervical discogenic pain can sometimes go away in a few days with rest. Even severe pain that may have been caused by a minor injury may go away in a few weeks.

Pain caused by disc degeneration, severe injuries, or conditions that need treatment may not go away until the cause is treated, even if the pain sometimes eases with rest or home treatment.

Can a chiropractor treat cervical discogenic pain?

A chiropractor can help relieve the pain associated with this condition.

But this kind of treatment won’t help reduce the pain caused by disc degeneration or injuries that require surgery.

Does massage help cervical discogenic pain?

Massage can help relieve pain and work out muscles that support your neck and upper body, especially if the underlying cause isn’t serious.

But massage may not help with pain that results from an injury, disc degeneration, or a condition that affects your joints.

Cervical discogenic pain can have many causes but most aren’t serious and can be treated with rest or exercise.

Some causes may need to be diagnosed and treated if they cause long-term or severe pain that’s disruptive to your life. Talk with a doctor if you can’t find relief from chronic neck pain.