Figure 1. (side view) The neck region is called the cervical spine. Protected within the bones of the cervical spine are the spinal cord and nerves. The seven cervical bones (vertebrae) are numbered C1 to C7. Each bone is separated and cushioned by shock-absorbing discs. The spinal nerves pass through bony canals to branch out to the neck and arms.
Pain located in the neck is a common medical condition. Neck pain can come from a number of disorders and diseases and can involve any of the tissues in the neck. Examples of common conditions causing neck pain are degenerative disc disease, neck strain, neck injury such as in whiplash, a herniated disc, or a pinched nerve. Neck pain can come from common infections, such as virus infection of the throat, leading to lymph node (gland) swelling and neck pain. Neck pain can also come from rare infections, such as tuberculosis of the neck, infection of the spine bones in the neck (osteomyelitis and septic discitis), and meningitis (often accompanied by neck stiffness). Neck pain can also come from conditions directly affecting the muscles of the neck, such as fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatica as well as from uncomfortable positioning of the neck while sleeping with the head on a pillow. Neck pain is also referred to as cervical pain.
Cervical stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and is most frequently caused by aging. The discs in the spine that separate and cushion vertebrae may dry out. As a result, the space between the vertebrae shrinks, and the discs lose their ability to act as shock absorbers. At the same time, the bones and ligaments that make up the spine become less pliable and thicken. These changes result in a narrowing of the spinal canal. In addition, the degenerative changes associated with cervical stenosis can affect the vertebrae by contributing to the growth of bone spurs that compress the nerve roots. Mild stenosis can be treated conservatively for extended periods of time as long as the symptoms are restricted to neck pain. Severe stenosis requires referral to a neurosurgeon.