The neck (cervical spine) is made up of the bones (vertebrae), spinal cord, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and the system that carries blood (blood vessels).
The top 7 vertebrae make up the cervical spine and begin at the base of the skull. The vertebrae of the cervical spine protect the spinal cord and support the skull. A disc between each vertebrae helps to cushion the vertebrae from moving together with the load of the body.
Each disc has a strong outer ring (annulus fibrosus). The outer ring helps to keep the disc’s soft center (nucleus pulposus) in place. Disc problems can start from over-use, an accident, or just the wear and tear of every day life.
The vertebrae and the discs allow a healthy cervical spine to:
- Bend side-to-side (lateral bend)
- Bend forward-to-back (flexion and extension)
- Turn left-to-right (rotation)
Degenerative Cervical Spine Pathology
Degenerative cervical spinal pathology may result in a damaged disc that can cause pain.
When a disc degenerates, the disc:
- Loses water. With less water, the disc becomes thinner and has less padding to absorb movement. The disc may become less flexible.
- May have tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) of the disc.
Disc degeneration can cause the:
- Inner disc (nucleus pulposus) to squeeze through the outer disc (disc bulge or disc herniation).
- Spinal canal to narrow and pinch the cord and nerves (spinal canal stenosis).
- Spinal cord to be irritated causing a loss of feeling or movement (myelopathy).
- Nerve roots to be irritated or pinched causing pain, weakness, or tingling down the arm and possibly into the hands (radiculopathy).