The neck (cervical spine) is made up of vertebrae which start at the upper torso and end at the base of the skull. Vertebrae as well as ligaments provide the spine with stability, and muscles provide motion and support. The neck supports the head, although the neck can be susceptible to injury because it is not as protected as the rest of the spine. Injury to the neck can result in pain and limit motion.
Abnormalities in the nerves, ligaments and muscles (soft tissues), or the bones and joints of the spine can cause neck pain. Prolonged wear and tear or injury from these abnormalities may also cause neck pain. In some cases neck pain can be caused by tumors or infection. Because the neck supports the head and is flexible, it is susceptible to injury from sports, falls, and motor vehicle accidents.
Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can inflame joints in the neck and cause pain and stiffness. Another cause of neck pain is degeneration or spondylosis, which refers to the natural wear and tear of our joints associated with aging. The shock absorbers that lie between the bones of our spine, known as the discs, can rupture and herniate as a result of degeneration or trauma. Also, the holes through which the nerves travel along our spine can become narrower, causing pinching of the nerves which can also cause neck pain.
History and physical exam by a qualified musculoskeletal expert is the first step. X-ray or MRI scanning may also be required.
Treatments vary depending upon the nature of the injury or cause of pain and symptoms. Non-surgical treatments include physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or corticosteroids. Surgery may also be an option depending upon injury or failure to respond to non-surgical treatment.