What is neck pain (cervical pain)? The cervical spine is a marvelous and complex structure. It is capable of supporting a head weighing 15 or more pounds while moving in several directions. No other region of the spine has such freedom of movement. This combination however, complexity and mobility, make the neck susceptible to pain and injury.
Neck Pain Causes
The causes of neck pain are as varied as the list is long. Consider a few examples:
Injury and Accidents: Whiplash is a common injury sustained during an auto accident. This is typically termed a hyperextension and/or hyperflexion injury because the head is forced to move backward and/or forward rapidly beyond the neck’s normal range of motion. The unnatural and forceful movement affects the muscles and ligaments in the neck. Muscles react by tightening and contracting creating muscle fatigue resulting in pain and stiffness.
Growing Older: Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease are known to affect the spine.
Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder causing progressive deterioration of cartilage. The body reacts by forming new bone termed osteophytes (bone spurs) that impact joint motion.
Spinal stenosis causes the foramen, small neural passageways, to narrow possibly compressing and entrapping nerve roots. Stenosis may cause neck, shoulder, and arm pain and numbness when these nerves are unable to function normally.
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can cause the intervertebral discs to become less hydrated, resulting in decreased disc elasticity and height. Over time, a disc may bulge or herniate causing upper extremity pain, tingling, and numbness.
Everyday Life: Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles disrupt the spine’s balance often causing the neck to bend forward to compensate. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract resulting in pain and stiffness.
Other Disease Processes: Although neck pain is commonly caused by strain, prolonged pain and/or neurologic deficit may be an indication of something more serious. These symptoms should not be ignored. Spinal infection, spinal cord compression, tumor, fracture, and other disorders can occur. If head injury has been sustained, more than likely the neck has been affected too. It is wise to seek medical attention promptly.