The Health Neck

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:

  1. Bend side-to-side (lateral bend)
  2. Bend forward-to-back (flexion and extension)
  3. 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).