What are Herniated Disc, C4/C5, and C5/C6 Injuries?

If you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc after a car accident or other accident, you may have heard your doctors describe your soft tissue injury with “C4/C5” or “C5/C6.” You probably understood pretty well what your doctor was saying, but if you still have questions, here are the details about herniated discs, C4/C5, and C5/C6 injuries.

To understand these kinds of injuries, it helps to know the kind of accidents that cause them. If you suspect you are suffering from this kind of injury, but you are not sure, this article will describe the common symptoms associated with hernial injuries at the C4/C5 and C5/C6 vertebrae. 

First, a primer on the structure and function of the spine. 

What Accidents Can Cause Herniated Disc, C4/C5, and C5/C6 Injuries?

Many kinds of accidents can cause herniated discs, C4/C5, and C5/C6 injuries. 

Typical kinds of accidents that can cause them include:

The nature and placement of the injuries depend on many factors like the vehicles being driven by each party, the placement of the impact, and the speed at which the vehicles were traveling. 

For example, a moderate speed impact between a mid-size car and a pedestrian might cause severe spinal cord injury to the walking victim. Likewise, a crash between a motorcycle driver and a commercial vehicle (like a UPS truck) could cause severe injury to the motorcycle driver. 

What is a Herniated Disc?

The spine is made up of many tiny bones. Each one is called a vertebra. Together, they’re called vertebrae. A disc sits in between each bone acting as a shock absorber. 

Each disc is made up of a tougher fibrous outer layer and a softer gel-like inner layer. Think of the discs like stacked jelly donuts, with the spinal cord running through the hollow tube created by the donut “holes”. 

A herniated disc, also called a bulged or ruptured disc, is what results when an impact or pressure pushes the inner “gel” layer out of a tear in the outer layer. Imagine if one or more of the stacked jelly donuts were punctured, causing an oozing leak. 

Not only does the hernia cause weakness in the spinal column, but the nerve pain can be excruciating if the gel touches the spinal cord. Since the space within the spinal canal is limited, any disrupted vertebral discs create extreme pressure on spinal nerves. 

What are C4/C5 and C5/C6 Injuries?

Doctors divide the spine into three segments. 

Moving from the base of the skull to the tailbone, the three segments of the spine are: 

  • Cervical spine
  • Thoracic spine
  • Lumbar spine

The cervical spine is the topmost segment, the thoracic is the middle back, and the lumbar is the lower back. 

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

Injuries, especially herniated discs, that occur between the two vertebrae C4 and C5 are “C4/C5” injuries. Likewise, injuries between C5 and C6 are “C5/C6” injuries. 

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

The symptoms associated with these injuries depend on the location, position, and size of the herniated disc. In general, C4/C5 symptoms occur in systems higher in the body, while C5/C6 injuries result in symptoms in lower systems of the body. 

When suffering a C4/C5 herniated disc injury, symptoms include pain, tingling, or numbness in the neck and arms. Often, the neck or arm pain radiates into the shoulder as well. 

An injured victim with a C4/C5 injury may have weak deltoids (shoulder muscles) and be unable to eat, dress, or bathe themself. They may also need help getting up and down. 

The C5/C6 vertebral disc is the most common one to herniate. A C5/C6 injury has slightly different symptoms.

These could include: 

  • Pain, tingling, and numbness on the inside (thumb side) of the hand
  • Trouble extending the wrist muscle at the forearm
  • Loss of strength in the bicep (front upper arm) muscles

The most severe injuries of the C5/C6 vertebral disc can lead to paralysis in the extremities. 

If you have suffered a herniated disc, C4/C5, or C5/C6 injury as a result of an accident, you should seek out the advice of a personal injury attorney. Many reputable personal injury attorneys offer free case consultations.