by Alan Jordan
The cervical spine is a finely tuned structure comprised of bones (vertebrae), discs, muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments. In addition to protecting the spinal cord which is the elongation of the brain stem which carries information from the brain to all parts of the body as well as providing the pathway for information passing in the opposite direction, the cervical spine enjoys a remarkable degree of mobility. Movement in all planes is approximately 400 degrees. The spine must of course also carry the head which weighs approximately 4.5-5 kilograms.
The illustration to the left is a side view of a normal spine. The human spine is made up of 33 vertebral bones and is divided into 5 spinal regions. The cervical region has seven vertebrae (C1 through C7). Rotational movements are mostly carried out between the upper two vertebrae while forward/backward bending as well as side bending are primarily carried out by the remaining vertebrae.
As can be seen on the illustration the neck begins at the base of the skull and continues to the upper back – thoracic spine. These two regions are both anatomically and functionally intimately related to one another. A neck problem will most often result in mid-back pain and mid-back pain will often result in neck symptoms.
The neck is exposed to a wide variety of stresses during normal daily activities as well as the unavoidable “wear and tear” that is a result of the aging process.
Among the more common conditions that can result in neck pain are simple muscle strain, sprains to the connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons, degenerated discs and joints, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, congenital defects and so forth. Disc herniations which normally result in the compression of the adjacent nerves most often result in pain, numbness and weakness of the arm.
These conditions and how they are most appropriately addressed will be dealt with in individual articles related to the neck and common disorders.
More detailed anatomical information can be seen on this instructional video.
To read more about the cervical spine, click here.
Dr Alan Jordan, Chiropractor, MSC, Phd
A Director of the Broadgate Spine & Joint Clinic