The cervical spine (neck) has great influence on a person’s health and vitality. This complex structure is made up of 7 vertebrae that are the most flexible of the spine. The atlas is the top vertebra and his hoop shape. It rests on the axis (the second vertebra) and pivots around the dens, a post like structure on the axis. When the neck is turned, most of the neck movement occurs at this area.
Not only does the neck support the weight of the head, it also contains a part of the brain stem and the top of the spinal cord. The body’s upper extremities, including the shoulder, upper arm, lower arm, wrist and hand, are controlled by the peripheral nerves. These peripheral nerves are formed by a convergence of nerve roots which branch out from between the neck vertebrae. Through the edges of the neck vertebrae run vertebral arteries, supplying blood to the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that involves balance and coordination. Situated in the front of the cervical spine is the esophagus and larynx. Several sets of muscles also envelop the cervical spine, controlling precision movement. Given all of these structural components located in this small area, it is easy to understand why numerous problems can arise if everything in the neck is not in proper working order.
There are several possible causes of neck pain, the most common being: old injuries, disc herniations and stenosis.
Injuries caused by such things as falls and whiplash can lie dormant for several years. Sub-optimal joint movement can be caused by vertebrae shifting out of normal position. Degenerative changes eventually follow, which can lead to pain and dysfunction.
Vertebrae are held together by discs (tough ligaments) which allow the vertebrae to move in unison. The outer annulus and the inner nucleus pulposus (jelly-like structure) make up the two main parts of a disc. When the tight rings of the annulus become weakened, the nucleus can puncture through it. This generally occurs from trauma, but can be caused by something as simple as coughing or sneezing. When this condition occurs, it is called a herniated nucleus pulposus (NHP). The annulus has a high concentration of nerve endings. As such, NHP can cause extreme pain. Also, if a nerve root is pressed by the nucleus, radiating pain into the arm can occur.
Stenosis is a degenerative joint disease, and may cause bony projections to narrow the canal where the spinal cord resides, resulting in compression of the spinal cord. Local pain and bilateral numbness and weakness below the compression site can result from this condition.
Neck pain can often be helped by chiropractic adjustments and manual therapy techniques. These gently move the joint through its physiological range of motion, improving disc hydration and face movement. Chiropractic adjustments also help prevent the soft tissues surrounding the spine from shortening and calcifying.