What is the cervical spine?
Cervical spine is the most superior portion of the spinal column and consists of seven vertebrates. It extends from the Cranium to the thoracic vertebra. The cervical spine is the housing structure for our delicate spinal cord responsible for sending messages to the brain. It is sturdy and flexible which allows us to freely move our neck and supports the skull along with its housing units.
Why is the cervical spine important?
The cervical spine performs several important functions which includes:
- Protecting the spinal cord
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extends from the brain through the spinal column, the upper part of which is the cervical spine. The spinal column ends at the lumbar spine. Each vertebra is shaped like a disc through which the cord passes. The bony discs protect the spine.
- Supporting the cranium and helping the head move
Our head weighs anywhere between 4.5 kg to 5.8 kg which makes the workload of the cervical spine quite heavy. In addition to this, it also enables the flexible movement of the neck and allows a range of motion it has.
- Blood flow to the brain
The cervical spine facilitates the blood flow to the brain. The small holes in it provide a passage for the spinal arteries that carry the blood to the brain.
Understanding cervical spondylosis
Cervical spondylosis also known as cervical osteoarthritis is a common age-related condition that affects the discs and joints of the cervical spine. It causes deterioration of the discs, vertebrae and ligaments of the neck or cervical spine. The edges of the vertebrae often develop bone spurs known as osteophytes. This growth can cause the interior of the column to get thinner. This condition causes pain and stiffness in the neck. In case of severe degeneration surgery is recommended although it rarely reaches that stage.
Causes of Cervical Spondylosis
- Bone spurs
The bone overgrowth in the region to support the spine can sometimes compress the nerves or other delicate areas of the spine, which can cause pain
- Age or overuse
Some jobs and hobbies can increase the risk of aggravating cervical spondylosis. Occupations like construction or a few sports like gymnast can lead to a faster wear and tear of the discs and its ligaments. As people get older their bones get weaker, which may develop into spondylosis.
Any previous injury due to accidents or falls can accelerate the ageing process of the spinal vertebrae. If untreated, this degeneration increases the risk of cervical spondolysis.
- Ligament stiffness
The sturdy cords that connect the vertebrae to each other become stiff over time which can affect our neck movement and make it hurt.
- Herniated discs
The cracks that develop over time in the spinal disc can cause a leakage of the protective material. This can press onto the cord or the spinal nerve which causes pain.
Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis
- In most cases, there is pain and stiffness in the neck and sometimes headaches
- It may eventually spread to shoulders, arms, hands and the base of the skull. Movement of the neck might make the pain worse
- After a long period of inactivity there is a stiffness in the neck
- Headaches that start from the base of the skull and eventually move to the upper half of the cranium
- Bone spurs and other growths might press onto blood vessels of the brain which can cause dizziness and blackouts
- Some uncommon symptoms include loss of bladder control and equilibrium or in some cases vertigo
- Sometimes the arms become weak and the overgrowths may press onto the oesophagus causing difficulty in swallowing
- Muscle weakness and numbness in arms and legs can also be a major symptom
Risk factors associated with Cervical Spondylosis
- Neck injuries
- Work related activities that put extra strain on the neck
- Genetic factors or family history of the problem
- Overweight and inactivity for a prolonged period
- Keeping your neck in the same position for a long time.
Treating Cervical Spondylosis
- Physical therapy
It helps one bring back flexibility and strength in the neck muscles, it makes them stronger and eventually helps you get rid of the pain.
Regularly taking the medicines as prescribed by the doctor will help you with a speedy recovery and decrease the pain.
- A cold pack
It will help with pain and decrease the swelling.
Avoiding the activities that put your neck under stress and using a neck brace can help speed up the process.
Although the physical therapy and medication is almost always sufficient, in cases of severe overgrowth, surgery might be necessary.