Anatomy Of Cervical Spine
In order to understand your symptoms and treatment choices, you must start with some understanding of the general anatomy of your spine and neck. You should have a general understanding of the function of these parts and how they work together.
The cervical spine starts just below the skull and ends just above the thoracic spine.
The structure is tightly bound together by discs, ligaments and muscles. The soft tissues that surround the cervical spine includes nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels.
The cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in the spine, usually referred as C1 through C7.
The thirty three joints make the cervical spine highly mobile, yet stable. Though flexible, it is much at risk from injury due to powerful, sudden movements, such as whiplash type accidents and falls.
Through the neck travel the most exquisitely sensitive pain structures in the human frame; the spinal cord and nerves emerging to supply various parts of the body, particularly the arms and scalp.
Cervical Ligaments and Muscles
The cervical spine is stabilised in the upright position by many strong ligaments that stretch from bone to another maintaining the correct posture and giving stability. Some are tiny, for example those holding the ring of the atlas in position, whilst others are very large, thick and long.
Neck pain can originate in the muscles of the neck. The head and cervical spine are able to move because of muscles that control and initiate the movements.
There are also stabilising muscles whose primary function to maintain the neck in the upright position such as Erector Spinae Muscles, Trapezium Muscles and Sternocleidomastoid Muscles. Muscles are designed to move. Even maintaining a healthy muscle in the same position for a long period of time. Sometimes we may injure our neck with a relatively minor injury. These minor injuries may cause pain for a few days and then go away. This is commonly referred to as a neck, or muscle strain.
Cervical spine bones
The spinal vertebrae are the 24 bones that are linked together to make up the spinal column. Just as the bones of the skull protect our brain, the bones of the spine protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the large collection of nerves that connects the brain to the rest of the body.
In the center of each vertebra is a large hole. As the vertebrae are all linked together, these holes line up to form the spinal canal which acts as a protection and support to the spinal cord that passes.
As the spinal cord leaves the brain, it travels down the spinal canal to the tailbone. Along the way, it gives off smaller nerves that leave the spine between each vertebra through an opening called the foramen.
The nerves that leave the spine in the upper area, or the cervical spine, travel into the arms to the hands. The nerves that leave the spine in the chest area, or thoracic spine, mostly go into the chest and belly area. The nerves that leave the spinal canal in the lower spine, or the lumbar spine, travel into the legs and feet.
One common cause of pain comes from pressure on the nerve roots, sometimes causing pain and numbness in the neck or in the lower body.
By looking at the intervertebral disc from above, we can see an outer ring, called the annulus, and a soft spongy center, called the nucleus pulposus. The annulus is the strongest part of the disc and helps keep the spongy center inside the disc. The nucleus pulposus acts as a shock absorber to cushion the bones from pressure during twisting, jumping, and weight bearing.
Each of the disc problems can give rise to painful condition of the neck.
Degeneration of the disc and spinal segment can result in several different spinal conditions that cause problems.
These include: mechanical neck pain, cervical radiculopathy, and spinal stenosis.
Cervical Facet Joint
A joint is formed where two or more bones meet. Facet joints link the vertebrae together like a chain, and provide a mobile connection between each vertebra. The facet joints are important because they allow the neck to bend and turn. There are 16 such tiny joints between the bones of the neck.
The bones are separated by discs, made up of concentric circles of fibrous material with a bubble of gel in the centre, acting as shock absorbers for the all bouncing, jogging, jumping movements of the neck.
There are several different types of joints in neck pain anatomy. Disc joints, facet joints, unco vertebral joints, and some other highly specialised joints in the upper neck, but they all have one thing in common: important nerves, the most sensitive tissue in the body, travel close by.
Any injury, swelling, strain and sprain has the immediate potential to affect the nerves traveling to the neck, shoulder, arm, head and the whole body, causing pain, headache, tingling and dysfunction of the organs they supply.