Skip to main content

The cervical spine (area of the spine near the neck) is made up of precisely seven vertebrae. Starting immediately below the skull and extending down to the base of the neck, the cervical spine supports the head and provides it with its complete range of motion. However, because it is only protected by the thin muscles in the neck, the cervical spine is relatively more exposed than the rest of the spinal column and is more susceptible to injury.

Many conditions that affect the cervical vertebrae manifest in neck pain, stiffness, and general discomfort. Neck pain is also commonly caused by injury to the soft tissues that support the cervical spine such as the muscles, ligaments, and nerves of the neck and shoulder area. Furthermore, traumatic events such as falls, automobile accidents, and various sports injury are also known to affect the neck and potentially lead to cervical spine complications. Other, less apparent factors know to adversely affect the neck are improper lifting and posture, viral infections, and tumors.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

The most commonly known causes of neck pain are:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease of joint inflammation. Unlike Osteoarthritis, which results from joint deterioration, Rheumatoid Arthritis occurs as a result of a miscommunication within the immune system that tells the body to attack healthy joint tissue (autoimmune). Untreated, Rheumatoid Arthritis will cause significant physical discomfort and dramatically lower the patient’s quality of life. Arthritis can affect any joint of the body, and the vertebral joints of the cervical spine are no exception.
  • Cervical Disc Herniation – Cervical disc herniation, in which the soft nucleus of the cervical disc bulges out of the bony body, is one of the most frequently treated spine conditions today. This phenomenon is likely due to the prevalence of poor posture and sedentary habits that lead to a significant loss of neck strength. This, over time, weakens the structural integrity of the spine.
  • Cervical Spondylosis – Cervical spondylosis is a common form of arthritis which affects the vertebrae of the neck. Patients affected by this condition experience a progressive degeneration of the cervical vertebra and articular discs. Cervical spondylosis can be caused by various factors ranging from aging to repetitive stress.
  • Cervical Stenosis – Cervical stenosis is the progressive narrowing of the cervical spinal canal. Since the spinal cord travels through the spinal canal, cervical stenosis has the potential to severely constrict the spinal cord and its various nerve roots. This can lead to pressure which can affect nerve function and potentially damage the spinal cord
  • Degenerative Disc Disease – Degenerative disc disease, despite what the name implies, is not a disease. DDD refers to a gradual but natural deterioration of the intervertebral discs due to aging. Nevertheless, DDD is associated with a significant loss of flexibility and severe pain.

When a patient complains about persistent neck pain, a clinical diagnosis is made with the aid of physical examinations and imaging tests that may include X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, etc.

Recommended treatment options will vary from patient to patient depending on the individual diagnosis. However, it can be said that the aim of cervical pain treatment is to eliminate discomfort in the neck area as well as reduce stiffness and restore a full range of motion. Conservative treatment will include rest, ice, compression and anti-inflammatory medications. If pain persists, patients may consider a consultation with a chiropractor or physical therapist to perform a series of stretches and exercised to help relieve pressure and promote a full range of motion.

If spine or disk damage is present, emergency surgery may be required. For other severe neck pain symptoms, surgery may still be the best treatment option to provide significant relief of swelling and spine pressure.