The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull and ends in the upper torso. It is made up of 7 vertebrae (spinal bones) which act as building blocks of the spine in the neck. These bones surround the spinal cord like a cage. Between each vertebra are cervical discs that provide cushioning and shock absorption. Other structures of the neck include; skin, muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid glands, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx and the trachea.
The bones of the neck are less protected than the rest of the spine and therefore more vulnerable to injury. Medical conditions and disease that affect any of the structures of the neck can also cause neck pain.
- Dull aching pain
- Pain worsened by neck movement
- Sharp shooting pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Light headedness
- Neck problems may also affect the upper back and shoulders
Pain may be due to:
- Abnormalities in surrounding soft tissue (Muscles, ligaments, nerves). These soft tissue injuries are usually cause by prolonged wear and tear. However, it can be as a result of a condition directly affecting the tissue such as fibromyalgia.
- Bones and joints affected by degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Infections, tumours and congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae. However ,these cases are rarer
- Cervical disk degeneration. As the disk degenerates and the space between the vertebrae narrow, stress is applied to the joints of the spine.
Your orthopaedic surgeon will:
- Take a compete medical history
- Perform a physical examination to determine the area of pain and identify any tenderness in the affected area
- Request X-rays as deemed necessary.
Further examinations may include;
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI) which will evaluate the spinal cord and nerve roots
- Computed Tomography (CT) which will evaluate the bone
- Myelogram which will allow careful evaluation of the spinal canal and nerve roots
- Electromyogram which will asses nerve and muscle function
This will vary depending on the Diagnosis but most people are treated with ;
- Physical Therapy
- Activity modification
- A neck collar may be necessary
Very few patients receive surgery to relieve neck pain. However, it may be done to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root or to stabilise the neck and reduce the risk of paralysis following an injury.