Herniated discs are one of the most common spinal cord injuries doctors see after car accidents. Spinal cord injuries are severe. Following a spinal cord injury, an injured person’s mobility and function may be entirely lost or extremely limited from the location of the injury downward. 

Since the location is significant to the injury’s treatment, doctors often describe the location as part of the injury. One of the most common locations for herniated discs is between the “C4/C5” vertebrae and the “C5/C6” vertebrae. 

But what does it mean when a doctor describes herniated disc, C4/C5, and C5/C6 injuries? Here’s what you need to know to understand these types of injuries. 

What Are Herniated Discs?

A hernia happens when an internal organ breaks through the muscle or tissue surrounding it. Generally, “herniated disc” refers to one of the intervertebral discs that sit between each individual vertebra of the spine and absorb the impact of walking, running, and sitting down. 

Intervertebral discs are made up of a gel-like inner layer and a fibrous outer layer. To understand herniated discs, think of the intervertebral discs as jelly donuts stacked from the base of the spine to the tailbone. 

The discs sit between vertebrae, together forming the spinal column. The spinal nerve impulses travel through the structures suspended in the gel. 

A herniated disc happens when there is significant pressure or force exerted on the “jelly donut,” and the gel-like inner layer is pushed out of the inner fibrous layer. Since there is limited space inside the spinal column, the gel-like inner layer sometimes puts pressure on spinal nerves, causing severe pain. 

What Causes Herniated Discs?

Any impact or pressure on the spine that exerts enough force to cause the gel-like inner layer of an intervertebral disc to come out of the fibrous outer layer can cause a herniated disc. A common cause of herniated discs are vehicular accidents, including:

Basically, any collision in which a person has less protection as a result of the vehicle they are traveling in or operating is more likely to lead to serious injury. 

Like the vehicle, a person’s location inside a car may influence the chances of injury. When you are a passenger using services like Uber or Lyft, you may be more vulnerable to injury if the car is hit on the back or passenger side where you are seated.  

Vehicle crashes are not the only cause of herniated discs. Herniated discs can be caused by other forces, as well. Sometimes, slip-and-fall accidents lead to herniated discs.

What About C4/C5 and C5/C6 Injuries?

Spinal cord injuries, and especially herniated discs, are commonly described by reference to their location along the spine. The spine is made up of three sections:

  • Cervical spine
  • Thoracic spine
  • Lumbar spine

The cervical spine starts at the base of the skull, the thoracic spine makes up the mid-body, and the lumbar spine includes the lower back, closest to the tailbone. 

The cervical spine is made up of 8 vertebrae. Starting at the base of the skull and moving down, the high cervical spine is made up of the first four (4) vertebrae called C1, C2, C3, and C4, while the C5, C6, C7, and C8 vertebrae are the low cervical spine. 

A herniated disc between the C4 and C5 vertebrae is called a “C4/C5 herniated disc.” Similarly, a herniated disc between C5 and C6 is a “C5/C6 herniated disc.” 

What Are the Symptoms of Herniated Disc, C4/C5, and C5/C6 Injuries? 

The symptoms of these injuries depend, in large part, on the location of the injury. Some symptoms of a C4/C5 herniated disc include:

  • Pain, tingling, and numbness in the neck and arms, particularly that radiates to the shoulders
  • Weakness in the deltoid muscle of the shoulder
  • Difficulty eating, dressing, bathing, or getting up and down

While symptoms of C4/C5 herniated discs are realized in the upper body, many symptoms of C5/C6 herniated discs impact the lower body. 

Some symptoms of C5/C6 herniated discs include pain, tingling, and numbness on the thumb side of the hand, difficulty extending the wrist muscle at the forearm, and weakness in the bicep (front upper arm) muscle.