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Neck Pain

Your neck is made up of seven bones – C1 through C7 vertebrae. These vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs that allow movement in the neck. They also provide padding between the bones. The spinal column begins in the neck and runs down the entire back. Within the column is the spinal cord that is filled with nerves that are supported by muscles and ligaments.

Known as the cervical region of the spine, this part of the back is often the source of persistent pain. Many times, pain, weakness and numbness that can runs from the neck and through to the fingers are related to the nerves being compressed. Neck pain can be caused by mechanical disorders, including:

  • Degenerative disc disease (DDD), which is when the intervertebral discs collapse or lose their flexibility. Discs are have a gel-like center and as we age, they can dry out and lose height or tear. In some cases, it does not cause pain, but it can become uncomfortable in others.

  • Herniated disc occurs when the soft center and outer lining that surrounds the disc tears, resulting in some of the gel-like substance to leak through the opening. This is called herniated, slipped or ruptured disc.

  • Myelopathy occurs more in older adults. It is related to cervical spine disease and causes patients to have difficulty with balance and overall coordination. This occurs due to bone spurs or degenerative changes in the cervical spine squeezing on the spinal cord.

  • Radiculopathy is a general description that physicians use to characterize pain, numbness and weakness in the arms, legs and hands. These symptoms are caused by a problem in the nerve roots. Normally, patients with radiculopathy have a herniated disc or degeneration in the spine that is irritating or causing swelling in the nerve roots.

  • Spondylosis can occur when the discs between vertebrae slip or collapse. When this happens, spaces between bone and disc narrow or collapse, putting pressure on the facets of the bone. The facets also deteriorate, along with cartilage on the end of the bones. Often, bone spurs form and narrow the passageway for nerves in the spine, compressing the nerve and causing severe pain.

  • Stenosis occurs when arthritis, disc degeneration, fracture or disease narrows the space in the spinal cord. Patients often have severe neck pain, limited neck motion, extremity weakness or balance problems. Stenosis is more common after age 50.

These conditions can result in troubling symptoms, such as numbness and tingling in the arm, fingers or hands, headache, shooting pain down an arm, loss of use or coordination in an arm or stiffness in the neck. They can be successfully controlled with conservative treatment – over-the-counter or prescription pain medication, muscle relaxants, cortisone injections, physical therapy, rest, ice or heat. Some resolve over time. If not, surgery may be an option for resolving the pain and discomfort.

Learn about some common surgical treatments to correct neck and back pain:

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