The neck is a crucial and vulnerable bridge connecting the brain to the body. As the thinnest and most flexible portion of the spine, it’s prone to injury from rapid motion and long term deterioration. The bones of the spine, padded by cartilage, contain a hollow tunnel. The nerves connecting the brain to the rest of the body run through this tunnel like a conduit. These nerves are the wiring that connects the body to the brain, allowing for communication.
Neck pain may result from abnormalities in the soft tissues—the muscles, ligaments, and nerves—as well as in bones and disks of the spine. The most common causes of neck pain are soft-tissue abnormalities due to injury (a sprain) or prolonged wear and tear. In rare instances, infection or tumors may cause neck pain. In some people, neck problems may be the source of pain in the upper back, shoulders, or arms.
Injuries in the neck can range from catastrophic to benign, depending on the part of the structure injured. More severe injuries often occur from trauma like a car accident or sports-related fall. These occurrences quickly twist or snap the neck into an unnatural position. Injury here can involve the muscles and tendons and, while painful, isn’t necessarily life-threatening. Treatments generally involve ice, heat or painkillers, and a specially constructed brace to support the neck.
More severe impacts can rupture the vertebrae and carry the risk of paralysis. Essentially, injuries to the spinal column become less serious the further down they occur. Each vertebrae represents a connection to the lower part of the body through nerve endings. The higher an injury occurs (i.e., the neck) means the nerves communicating to the lower parts of the body may be compromised. So these injuries should be treated seriously. Especially if there is any numbness radiating to other parts of the body (arms, fingers, etc.).
Cervical Disk Degeneration (Spondylosis)
The disk acts as a shock absorber between the bones in the neck. In cervical disk degeneration (which typically occurs in people age 40 years and older), the normal gelatin-like center of the disk degenerates and the space between the vertebrae narrows. As the disk space narrows, added stress is applied to the joints of the spine causing further wear and degenerative disease. The cervical disk may also protrude and put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots when the rim of the disk weakens. This is known as a herniated cervical disk.