Your neck (cervical spine) is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. Cervical disks absorb shock between the bones. The bones, ligaments, and muscles of your neck support your head and allow for motion. Any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury can cause neck pain or stiffness.
Many people experience neck pain or stiffness in the neck occasionally. In many cases, it is due to poor posture, normal wear and tear, or overuse. Sometimes, neck pain is caused by injury from a fall, contact sports, or whiplash.
Most of the time, neck pain is not a serious condition and can be relieved within a few days. In some cases, neck pain can indicate serious injury or illness and require a doctor’s care. If neck pain continues more than a week, is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Cervical spondylosis is usually an age-related condition that affects the joints in your neck. It develops as a result of the wear and tear of the cartilage and bones are of the cervical spine. While it is largely due to age, it can be caused by other factors as well. Alternative names for it include cervical osteoarthritis and neck arthritis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition is present in more than 90 percent of people over the age of 65, although some have it in such small degrees that they never experience symptoms (Mayo Clinic). For some, it can cause chronic pain, although many people who have it are still able to conduct normal, daily activities.
Cervical radiculopathy is the clinical description of pain and neurological symptoms resulting from any type of condition that irritates a nerve in the cervical spine (neck). When any nerve root in the cervical spine is irritated through compression or inflammation, the symptoms can radiate along that nerve’s pathway into the arm and hand. The patient’s specific cervical radiculopathy symptoms will depend primarily on which nerve is affected.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back pain and neck pain, and also one of the most misunderstood. Simply put, degenerative disc disease describes the symptoms of pain and possibly radiating weakness or numbness stemming from a degenerated disc in the spine. While the definition sounds simple, many patients diagnosed with degenerative disc disease are left wondering exactly what this diagnosis means for them.
Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy (Spinal Cord Compression)
One of the most common neck conditions that occurs with age is cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM). Over time, the normal wear-and-tear effects of aging can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal. This compresses — or squeezes — the spinal cord. CSM can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, and weakness.
Sprains & Strains
Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most sprains and strains are minor and don’t require medical attention. Sprains occur at joints and affect ligaments, which connect bone to bone. Strains affect muscles or tendons, which connect muscle to bone. They most often occur at the calf, thigh, or groin.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a syndrome involving compression at the superior thoracic outlet resulting from excess pressure placed on a neurovascular bundle passing between the anterior scalene and middle scalene muscles.
It can affect one or more of the nerves that innervate the upper limb and/or blood vessels as they pass between the chest and upper extremity, specifically in the brachial plexus, the subclavian artery, and, rarely, the subclavian vein.
Whiplash occurs when a person’s neck is whipped backward and then forward very suddenly. This injury is most common following a rear-end car collision. It can also result from physical abuse, sports injuries, or amusement park rides.
Whiplash results when the soft tissues—the muscles and ligaments—of your neck are extended beyond their typical range of motion. Your symptoms might not be apparent for a while, so it’s important to pay attention to any physical changes for a few days following any accident. Although whiplash is thought of as a relatively mild condition, it can cause long-term pain and discomfort.
A muscle spasm is the body’s method of protecting injured structures, or as a means to protect itself from injury. Muscle spasms in the back can be caused by a muscle strain, a sprained muscle, or an underlying condition.
Numbness or Weakness
One of the most common symptoms experienced by those with MS, numbness occurs when the nerves that transmit sensations do not conduct information properly. As a result, sensations in that particular area are either lacking or nonexistent. Numbness is often one of the first symptoms experienced by people diagnosed with MS and can affect a very small area (such as a spot on the face), or it can affect entire areas of the body (such as feet, arms, and legs). In most instances, numbness only lasts for a short period of time and goes away on its own. For this reason, many consider numbness to be more of an annoyance than a disabling symptom. However, in severe cases, numbness can interfere with a person’s ability to function normally. Numbness of the legs that limits mobility is an example of numbness that can negatively affect a person’s activities of daily living.
Weakness is experienced by over half of people who have MS. There are two fundamental causes of weakness in individuals with MS. First, weakness can be caused by spasms and fatigue. This type of weakness presents as loss of strength and control in the extremities. Second, weakness can result from damaged nerves, which prevent signals from reaching the extremities. This type of weakness does not result from diminished muscle strength. It is vital that the source of the weakness be understood in order to properly treat it.