When you refer to somebody as a ‘pain in the neck’, it’s definitely not a compliment! Neck pain can range from annoying to agonizing, and it can be short-lived or relentless. If you are suffering from neck pain, don’t let anybody tell you it’s no big deal: the neck is an extremely complicated structure with many components that can sustain injury, and identifying the cause of pain that doesn’t go away is the first step to relief.
The neck can suffer traumatic injuries such as those sustained while playing sports or experiencing a car accident, or a less acute injury caused by poor posture or sleeping in the wrong position.
Here are the basics of what you need to know to understand the source of your pain and what you can do to get better.
The neck is composed of several parts, including:
- The spinal cord, which runs from the brain all the way down through your neck down to the rest of your torso. It is protected by the bones, and is made up of bundles of nerves that send messages from the brain to all of the other parts of the body.
- The nerves that branch off from the spinal cord lead to various parts of the body. The nerves that exit the spinal cord in the neck control movement and sensation in the upper body and head.
- The cervical vertebrae are the bones that make up the cervical spine. There are seven of them, and they protect the spinal cord and accommodate arteries that carry blood to the brain as well as the nerve roots that branch off from the spinal cord. They are uniquely shaped to facilitate the neck’s movement.
- Between each of the cervical vertebrae are vertebral discs which act as shock absorbers. They help to cushion the bones from rubbing against each other and provide greater movement and flexibility.
- There are muscles that support the neck and move the neck and head.
Pain in your neck can arise suddenly, such as the pain that arises from a traumatic injury, or it can be cumulative and caused by repetitive motions or a degenerative process. Some of the most common causes of neck pain include:
- Strained neck muscles caused by overuse or poor positioning, particularly for those who spend long hours leaning over a computer, a workbench, or even peering down at a book, tablet or smart phone.
- Joint degeneration happens all over the body, including in the joints of the neck. The older you get, the more vulnerable you are to osteoarthritis, which attacks the cartilage that cushions the cervical vertebrae and makes them break down and build bone spurs int their place.
- The nerves that branch out from your spinal cord in your cervical spine can be compressed by bone spurs, herniated discs, or swollen, inflamed neck muscles.
- Injuries such as automobile accidents and sports injuries can cause serious injury to the neck, which is particularly vulnerable to injuries caused by being jerked backwards and forwards.
If you are experiencing neck pain, there is no reason to suffer in silence. Contact our cervical spine specialist today to learn how we can help.