Anyone suffering from neck pain probably is aware of the nerve branches and bundles located in their neck, or cervical spine. Others, who have never suffered from any of the various disorders associated with compression of these delicate nerves most likely, cannot understand the pain and its ability to seemingly move throughout the body. A thorough understanding of the cervical spine and the nerves contained in it is the first step towards understanding back and neck pain.
First, understand what the cervical spine is. Simply put it is the first seven vertebrae starting from the base of the skull. These bones make up the neck and protect the spinal cord from injury. They help support the neck and serve as an underlying structure for the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the neck and skull to attach to.
The spinal cord, which runs through the cervical spine is the major never conduit of the body. It can be though of as an electrical line through which all impulses are sent. The spinal cord carries the signals that let you wiggle your big toe, breathe and even blink. Many people believe, in error, that the only thing located in the cervical spine is the spinal cord. They are forgetting about the cervical nerves.
The cervical nerves are a series of branches that connect the spinal cord to several different parts of the body. It is because of these nerves that a neck injury in the cervical spine can be felt in areas such as the chest and arms. Once these nerve bundles become compressed or otherwise compromised, pain is likely to result.
There are several commonly injuries or ailments that affect the nerve branches located in the cervical spine.
- Herniated disk – this painful condition often leads to irritation of the cervical nerves. It happens when a disk (located between the vertebrae) begins to extrude, or herniated, directly under the root of the nerve. This can be very painful.
- Pinched nerve – while most pinched nerves are located lower in the spine, the nerves of the cervical spine can also become pinched. This painful condition can cause pain in the shoulder, weakness of the deltoid and some numbness. Overall weakness can also be felt.
Determining the exact cause of pain due to problematic cervical nerves is difficult. Because even a minor irritation, unlikely to show up on an imaging scan, can cause pain, some patients suffer for years from back, arm or chest problems without ever associating it with a problem related to the cervical nerves.
If you believe you are experiencing pain due to a pinched cervical nerve or a herniated disk that is pressing on a nerve branch, it is important to work closely with your doctor. Have them test your reflexes and muscle strength in addition to perform imaging scans. If a problem is detected, your doctor will prescribe one or more of the following: physical therapy, massage therapy, medication, and possibly surgery. Any problem involving your cervical nerves should be carefully investigated.