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The neck is the upper most part of the spine where it forms a joint with the occipital bone in the skull. It supports the weight of the head and allows the up/down and sideways movement of the skull. Neck pain is fairly common and is often nothing to worry too much about.
At the top of the spine there are seven bones (vertebrae) which make up the cervical region of the spinal column. This region is known as the neck. The first two vertebrae have differences in structure compared the other vertebrae, as they are adapted to allow the movement of the skull. The first vertebra of the neck is named the atlas, after the Atlas of Greek mythology. As Atlas supported the world, the atlas vertebra supports the skull. The skull forms a joint here which allows the up/down, nodding movement of the head. The second vertebra of the neck is called the axis. It forms a joint with the atlas and allows the side to side, head shaking movements. The whole of the spinal column houses the spinal cord which is responsible for carrying messages to and from the brain. Specific to the cervical region are openings (foramen) for arteries to pass through and allow blood flow to the brain. Pain in the neck is often caused from wear and tear rather than an acute injury, some common neck injuries include:
Cervical Spondylosis - Cervical Spondylosis occurs as the bones and tissues of the neck become damaged over time. It is estimated that it will affect 9 out of 10 people by the time they are 60, although not all will suffer with the symptoms. Between the vertebrae are discs of flexible tissue which cushion the bone. Over time these dry out and become less flexible, to compensate for this the body produces small lumps of extra bone (osteophytes) pro to stabilise the joints. However, this affects the flexibility leading to stiffness and pain. This change to the spinal column can also affect the nerves in and around the neck.
Herniated Disc - Between each of the bones in the back there are protective pads of tissue. These pads have a casing which can split causing the internal tissue to bulge out of the disc and press on to the spinal cord. The symptoms vary depending on the location of slipped disc and which nerve it affects. If it is in the cervical region of the spine it can cause pain in the arm. It is often in younger people that this occurs and is less common than the process of damage causing cervical spondylosis. Medication will help to reduce the pain and once this has eased sufficiently conservative treatment such as exercises and physiotherapy can begin.
Whiplash - The most prevalent cause of whiplash is car accidents, where a person’s head is suddenly and violently moved forwards, backwards or sideways. This damages the tendons and ligaments in the neck, causing pain, stiffness, restricted movement and headaches. Other, less common symptoms include lower back pain, dizziness, blurred vision and vertigo. At the time of the injury no symptoms may be apparent and they usually develop the following day.