The neck never stops supporting the 12 pounds that most heads weigh. After many decades, the bones, joints, and discs inside wear down, just as they do throughout the rest of the body. This can lead to neck pain.
Most of the neck’s strength is derived from the cervical spine, the curving top portion of the spine located at the back of the neck. Meanwhile, many modern activities leave those cervical spines contorted into unnatural positions—bent over computers or cell phones, flexed forward while riding bikes, or lowered down while working at desks. Over time, these actions wear down the neck’s supportive structures. Sometimes, painful medical conditions result.
Osteoarthritis in the neck is frequently called cervical osteoarthritis or cervical spondylosis. This condition is caused by normal wear-and-tear and typically appears in middle-aged or elderly people.
Vertebrae throughout the entire spine, including the cervical portion, have special discs separating them that are designed to offer protection and act as a buffer. Over time, these discs become less resilient, losing fluid and flexibility. Degeneration results and excess cartilage or other growths called osteophytes begin to form.
There isn’t any room for these growths, and so they begin to crowd the spinal column and block areas meant for spinal nerves. Neck pain and stiffness result. If necessary, surgery can help fix the condition. Many times, this condition does not progress.
Sometimes, wear and tear on the cervical spine leads to spinal stenosis. As the discs degenerate, or bone spurs or other growths form, the spinal canal narrows, creating pressure that sends tingling, numbing, or pain throughout the body.
Although spinal stenosis starts in the neck, symptoms often manifest as leg weakness or decreased body awareness. For example, you may not be able to tell where your arms or legs are located with your eyes closed.
Diagnosis can involve a physical exam and testing with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Treatment may involve physical therapy or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.
Degenerative Disc Disease
The same degeneration of discs involved with cervical osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis also happens with degenerative disc disease. Although the spine naturally loses its buoyancy as it ages, degenerative conditions occur when the loss happens more rapidly than normal.
Cervical degenerative disc disease is the condition where the protective buffer discs between vertebrae dry out, diminishing their ability to absorb shock and movement. Symptoms may include lost height and stiffness, in addition to neck pain and inflammation. Treatment may include physical therapy, massage, chiropractic care, or acupuncture.
Have you experienced spinal issues that have caused neck pain?
Image by Michael Dorausch via Flickr