The cervical spine – the neck region – consists of seven different bones (C1-C7 vertebrae) and is one of the most essential parts of the body. Often referred to as the spinal column, the cervical spine has the very important role of supporting the skull, protecting the spinal cord, and allowing for various head movements. This is why any conditions or issues of the cervical spine can be quite problematic. In fact, neck pain is one of the most common health concerns, impacting a reported 75 percent of the population.
To treat neck pain the right way, a good place to start is with basic spine anatomy. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to prevent common neck problems and treat existing ones.
Anatomy of the Cervical Spine
The cervical spine starts at the bottom of the skull and wanders down through the seven vertebral bones mentioned earlier, eventually connecting to the thoracic spine (upper back). To truly understand how indispensable the cervical spine is, we must point out that the complex nature of its composition makes it prone to various stresses, forces, conditions, and ailments. Whether from trauma or regular wear and tear, neck problems are often persistent and nagging.
The Roles of the Cervical Spine
The cervical spine is quite delicate, which is yet another reason why it is susceptible to problems. Not only are physical issues common, but the spinal column works in conjunction with the brain, sending messages that control pain and many other symptoms of the body. For today’s purposes, let’s take a closer look at the different functionalities of the cervical spine:
- Protects the spinal cord – The spinal cord is basically a network of nerves that starts in the brain and runs down through the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. The spinal cord serves as a line of communication between the brain and the rest of the body – a very important job.
- Supports the skull – Perhaps the most obvious role of the cervical spine is to support the skull and encourage movement, which is no easy task. In fact, the average human head weighs between 10 and 13 pounds, putting a lot of pressure on the vertebrae of the cervical spine.
- Encourages the flow of blood to the brain – There are numerous vertebral openings within the cervical spine, all of which create a path for proper blood flow from the arteries to the brain.
Common Conditions of the Cervical Spine
Neck problems are often complex, as it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact source of the issue. Is it a structural concern? Are the discs involved? Or is your neck pain being caused by a muscle, ligament, or other tissue problem? Some of the most common conditions of the cervical spine that cause neck pain include:
- Cervical Stenosis – The narrowing of the spinal canal
- Herniated Cervical Disc – Also known as a slipped, ruptured, or bulging disc
- Cervical Spondylolisthesis – Occurs when one of the vertebrae slip forward, coming in contact with the adjacent vertebrae
- Spinal Infection
- Cervical Trauma or Fractures
- Cervical Tumors
Please keep in mind that these are just a handful of conditions that can cause neck pain. If you are experiencing neck problems of any kind, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Atwater here at OSA.
Treating Neck Pain
Surgery is always a last resort when it comes to neck pain, however, sometimes this is the only answer. There are a myriad of alternatives to surgery that are proven to be quite effective in providing long-term relief, including physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, injections, and active exercises. If you would like to learn more about these options or would like a recommendation for a physical therapist, please do not hesitate to contact OSA today. Our goal is to not only properly diagnose your condition, but help you find relief through safe, natural treatment options.