The neck is the cervical part of the body located between the head and the thorax, separating the head from the torso. Also known as the cervical spine, the neck starts from the base of the cranium and extends toward the top of the shoulders. It fully supports the weight of the head and is highly flexible, allowing the head to flex and turn in various directions.
The cervical spine is consists of seven vertebrae, C1-C7, each composed of cylindrical bones located in front of the spinal cord. These vertebral bones work with the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments in providing stability, structure, mobility, and support to the neck. There are also opening on each side of the vertebra where arteries are lined to carry blood to the brain.
Common Neck Problems/Conditions
Although highly flexible, the cervical spine is a complex and delicate system. With relatively limited muscle support, it is susceptible to injury and specific conditions, such as the following:
Cervical kyphosis – This is a condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the neck, opposite to the normal inward curve (lordosis). Kyphosis may occur due to a post-operative complication, a degenerative disorder or congenital defect, or may be caused by trauma to the neck area.
Neck stenosis – This is a degenerative condition, usually caused by aging, wherein the structures of the spine cause the spinal canal to narrow down, leading to pressure on the spinal cord. Stenosis can lead to myelopathy that may impair movement, bowel and bladder function, and motor skills.
Neck trauma – Trauma to the neck, such as due to injury or accident involving a severe blow or sudden twist, can cause a fracture in one or more of the cervical vertebrae in the neck.
Cervical tumors – A condition characterized by an abnormal and uncontrollable tissue growth within or surrounding the neck. Neck tumors may be benign/non-cancerous or malignant/cancerous.
Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve) – A condition that occurs when a nerve located in the neck is compressed, irritated or subjected to undue pressure, causing pain that can radiate to the lower back and the arm, as well as muscle weakness.
Rheumatoid arthritis of the neck – Although common, this neck condition is relatively complicated. Neck arthritis symptoms are extremely varied, but usually include pain and overall joint inflammation as the nerves in the neck that exit the skull and the upper spine are subjected to compression or pressure. Pain due to neck arthritis can be debilitating if left untreated.
Common Neck Procedures and Surgeries
Anterior cervical discectomy – A common surgical procedure wherein an incision is made in the midline of the back of the neck to relieve pain due to a pinched nerve or radiculopathy.
Laminectomy – In this procedure, the laminae (bony plates at the back that shield the spinal cord) are removed to reduce pressure build-up on the nerves and the spinal cord.
Laminoplasty – A surgery designed to treat stenosis, this aims to reconstruct the laminae to widen the spinal canal and relieve the pressure on the spinal cord.
Cervical spinal fusion – This surgical procedure involves fusing two grinding vertebrae that have been herniated or worn down. This procedure removes problematic disks and restores the alignment of the neck.
These procedures and surgeries are now being performed through minimally invasive techniques and can immensely improve the quality of life of those who suffer from neck conditions.