There’s a reason why calling someone or something a “pain in the neck” is so biting. Everyone knows how obtrusive an actual pain in the neck can be. At best, a pain in the cervical spine (neck) can limit your ability to function; at worse, it can totally incapacitate you, depending on the cause.
Neck pain can be caused by something as simple as a muscle strain, but it can also indicate that there is a more serious condition present.
Structure of the Neck
The structural makeup of the neck involves seven vertebral sections connecting to the thorax. The construction of the neck is quite intricate, beginning with the first vertebral section, called the axis. The name is appropriate, since it is designed to swivel around the second vertebra, allowing you to turn your head from side to side. The lower vertebrae in the neck, connected by joints that are called facets, provide the ability to move your head and neck forward and backward and to perform twisting movements.
Cervical discs are located between each vertebra in the neck and act as cushions to absorb shock. Without the discs, we’d have no flexibility in the neck region.
Within the cervical spine, there are eight nerves. These eight nerves branch off of the spinal cord, exiting through the back of the spine. The nerves are named for the vertebra directly below it. For example, the nerve that transports between the C-2 and C-3 vertebra is the C-3 nerve.
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments combine with the other parts of the cervical spine to provide structural integrity. Imagine how many times neck movement is required each day; then imagine the intricate construction of the many integral and moving parts of the neck. Wear and tear could eventually pose a threat to function and cause pain.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
· Soft Tissue or Muscle Strain. Ligaments and tendons, as well as neck muscles when sprained by an injury or just from straining, can result in acute pain. As long as the blood supply to the soft tissue is good, this type of strain/sprain should heal itself within a short matter of time. The blood supply delivers healing nutrients to the sprained area. In the meantime, the person experiencing neck pain may apply ice and heat to the affected area. This and other nonsurgical methods may ease discomfort. Taking an over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication will also help.
See your doctor if the pain continues for an extended period of time, say 2-3 months. The pain may be an indication that something more serious is afoot. Pain that last for 3 months or longer is considered chronic.
· Facet Joints and Discs. With wear and tear, a disc or facet joint can wear down and cause pain. Discs that rupture or herniate are a significant source of pain, as are facets that have worn down over time. Actually, the pain begins as the cartilage between the facets deteriorates. When the cartilage that acts as cushioning between the bones, and discs between the vertebrae deteriorate, bone on bone scraping occurs. This is a source of pain. Additionally, bone spurs may begin to develop in the area, as a way to stabilize the bone. The development of bone spurs increases inflammation and also causes pain. The person affected will also experience stiffness and will lose some flexibility in the neck region.
· Nerves. When joints degenerate in the neck, the degeneration can compress nerve roots. In this case, the pain won’t only affect the neck area, but will continue down the arm. The affected person will experience tingling and numbness, which are symptoms of cervical radiculopathy. The condition can also cause weakness in the arm.
The skilled doctors at the Spine Academy of Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland are well-versed in treating chronic and acute neck and back pain. Call for an appointment to discuss your neck and back issues and how our cutting-edge care and treatment can help. The number to call is (410) 644-1880.