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The neck is the part of the body, on many terrestrial or secondarily aquatic vertebrates, that distinguishes the head from the torso or trunk. The Latin term signifying "of the neck" is cervical. Anatomy of the human neck Bony anatomy:

The Cervical Spine

The cervical portion of the human spine comprises seven bony segments, typically referred to as C-1 to C-7, with cartilaginous discs between each vertebral body. The neck supports the weight of the head and protects the nerves that carry sensory and motor information from the brain down to the rest of the body. In addition, the neck is highly flexible and allows the head to turn and flex in all directions. From top to bottom the cervical spine is gently curved in convex-forward fashion. It is the least marked of all the curves of the column. Soft tissue anatomy In the middle line below the chin can be felt the body of the hyoid bone, just below which is the prominence of the thyroid cartilage called "Adam's apple", better marked in men than in women.

Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain can result from a variety of causes, ranging from over use injuries and whiplash to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and meningitis.

Muscle strains.  Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a steering wheel, often triggers muscle strains. Neck muscles, particularly those in the back of the neck, become fatigues and eventually strained.  When you overuse your neck muscles repeatedly, chronic pain can develop.  Even such minor things as reading in bed or gritting your teeth can strain neck muscles.

Worn joints.  Just like all other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to experience wear and tear with age, which can cause osteoarthritis in your neck.

Nerve compression.  A variety or problems in your neck's vertebrae can reduce the amount of space available for nerves to branch out from the spinal cord.  Examples include:

  • Stiffened disks.  As you age, the cushioning disks between your vertebrae become dry and stiff, narrowing the space in your spinal column where the nerves exit.
  • Herniated disks.  This occurs when the inner gel-like material of a disk protrudes through the disk's tougher outer covering. The protrusion can press on nerves exiting the spinal column, causing arm pain or weakness, or on the spinal cord, itself.
  • Bone spurs.  Arthritic joints in your neck can develop bony growths that may press on nerves.

Injuries.  Rear-end collisions often result in whiplash injuries, which occur when the head is jerked forward and then backward, stretching the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits.

Diseases.  Neck pain can sometimes be caused by diseases, such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis.  After the joints in the hands and the feet, the joints in the neck are the next most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Meningitis.  This infectious disease causes the lining of the brain and spinal cord to swell.  One of the most common symptoms of meningitis is neck pain and stiffness.
  • Cancer.  Rarely, neck pain can be caused by cancerous tumors in the spine. The cancer may have traveled to the spine from other parts of your body.
Risk Factors

Risk factors include:
  • Age.  The neck is often affected by the wear and tear variety of arthritis (osteoarthritis), which becomes more common with age.
  • Occupation.  Your risk of neck pain may be higher if your job requires your neck to be held in one position for prolonged periods of time.  Examples include driving and computer work.
Tests and Diagnosis

Imaging tests.
  • X-rays.  X-rays can reveal areas in your neck where your nerves or spinal cord may be pinched by bone spurs or a bulging disk. But many people, especially those over 60, have these findings and don't experience any neck pain.
  • Computerized tomography (CT).  CT scans combine X-ray images taken from many different directions to produce detailed images of bones and soft tissues, including the spinal cord and the nerves coming from the spinal cord.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  MRIs utilize radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create especially detailed images of bones and soft tissues, including the spinal cord and the nerves coming from the spinal cord.

Nerve tests.  If you doctor suspects that your neck pain may be related to a pinched nerve, he or she may suggest electromyography (EMG). This test involves inserting very fine needles through your skin into a muscle to determine whether specific nerves are functioning properly.

Lab tests.

  • Blood tests.  Blood tests can sometimes provide evidence of inflammatory or infectious conditions that may be causing your neck pain.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture).  During a spinal tap, a needle is carefully inserted into your spine to obtain a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.  This test can reveal evidence of meningitis.


The most common types of neck pain usually respond well to home care. If neck persists, your doctor may recommend other treatments.


  • Pain medications.  Your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicine than what you can obtain over-the-counter.  Opiod analgesics are sometimes used briefly to treat acute neck pain.  Muscle relaxants, tramadol (Ultram) or tricyclic antidepressant medications used for pain alsdo may be prescribed.
  • Injections of medication.  Injections of medications may help relieve neck pain.  Your doctor may inject corticosteriod medications near the nerve roots, into the small facet joints in the bones of the cervical spine, or into the muscles in your neck to help with pain. Numbing medications, such as lidocaine, also can be injected to relieve your neck pain.


  • Neck exercises and stretching.  Your doctor may recommend that you work with a physical therapist to lean neck exercises and stretches. A physical therapist can guide you through these exercises and stretches so that you can do them on your own at home. Exercises may improve pain by restoring muscle function, optimizing posture to prevent overload of muscles, and increasing the strength and endurance of your neck muscles.
  • Traction.  Traction uses weights and pulleys to gently stretch your neck and keep it immobilized. This therapy, under supervision of a medical professional and physical therapist, may provide relatively fast relief of some neck pain, especially pain related to nerve root irritation.
  • Short-term immobilization.  A soft collar that supports your neck may help relieve pain by taking pressure off the structures in your neck. If used for more than two weeks, however, a collar may do more harm than good.


Vivacare - Doctor Recommended Resources
Wikipedia Encyclopedia
Mayo Clinic

Read more: http://www.righthealth.com/topic/neck#ixzz1InPu1jMu


Raymond Rybicki, MD

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your specific medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional. Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

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