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What a pain in the neck!

If you are one of the millions of people who suffer with neck pain, YOU ARE NOT


● Do you spend hours hunched over your laptop?

● Are you constantly staring down at your phone?

● Is your stress level out of control?

● Do you lack self-care in the form of exercise and nutrition?

The time is now to gain the education needed about the neck, also known as the cervical

spine, so that you can take the proper action to live a more pain-free and quality life.

What exactly is the neck?

● The neck, or cervical spine, is part of a long flexible column, known as the spinal

column or backbone, which extends through most of the body. The cervical spine (neck

region) consists of seven bones (C1-C7 vertebrae), which are separated from one another

by intervertebral discs.

● Attached to the back of each vertebral body is an arch of bone that forms a continuous

hollow longitudinal space, which runs the whole length of the back. This space, called the

spinal canal, is the area through which the spinal cord and nerve bundles pass. The spinal

cord is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and surrounded by three protective layers

called the meninges (dura, arachnoid, and pia mater).

● At each vertebral level, a pair of spinal nerves exit through small openings called

foraminae (one to the left and one to the right). These nerves serve the muscles, skin and

tissues of the body and thus provide sensation and movement to all parts of the body. The

delicate spinal cord and nerves are further supported by strong muscles and ligaments

that are attached to the vertebrae.1

What causes pain in the neck?

● Wear and tear of the cartilage and bones in neck due to:

○ Age - elderly persons are more prone to develop spondylosis

○ Dehydrated or drying spinal discs, reducing the space between two neck


○ Herniated discs

○ Injury to the neck

○ Stiffer ligaments in the neck

○ Overuse of spine

○ Repetitive stress: holding the neck in an uncomfortable position for long


Neck pain may be caused by poor posture, kyphosis (Rounding of the shoulders and neck),

disc degeneration, arthritis, narrowing of the spinal canal, injuries such as whiplash or a

blow to the head, and in rare cases, cancer or meningitis.

● Neck pain may be accompanied by other symptoms such as

○ Pain extending down the arm

○ Numbness and weakness in the upper extremities hands

○ Unsteady gait when walking

○ Muscle spasms in the legs

○ Loss of coordination in arms, hands, finger

○ Loss of muscle tone in arms and/or hands

○ Dropping items or loss of dexterity of hands

While age or family history is something that cannot be controlled, there are various steps

you can take to reduce and avoid neck pain such as:

● Limit/avoid lifting heavy weights

● Cut Down/Quit Smoking

● Maintain a healthy weight

● Hydrate throughout the day

● Temporary cervical collar to support your head (neck muscles can rest/ heal)

● Ergonomic Chairs/Standing Desks

● Correct Posture

● Massage/Stretching of the back, chest, shoulders and neck

● Change positions often (set timers)

● Exercise: Increase circulation through walking, yoga, etc.

● Meditation/Mindfulness practices to decrease stress

In addition, infusing stretches and movements to improve mobility can be done anytime

and anywhere. Whether you are seated or standing at your desk, at the office, or stopped at

a traffic light, try to add these into your daily routine.

● Neck rotations

● Sideways head tilt

● Neck retraction

● Neck extension and flexion

● Shoulder rolls

Finally, incorporating exercises that target the stabilizing muscles surrounding the neck is a

great way to improve and maintain proper posture and neck alignment throughout the day.

To cut down on neck pain, strengthening the muscles in and around the neck is a great way

to prevent future neck issues. Infusing these exercises 2-3x per/week is a great place to

start. Remember to start with light weights and low reps until you develop the strength to

add more weight while still maintaining proper form and alignment.

● Dumbbell shrug

● One-arm row

● Upright row

● Reverse fly

● Lat raise

1 Shashank V. Gandhi, MD; Michael Schulder, MD, FAANS. Cervical Spine. AANS.

February 2023 Cervical Spine – Anatomy, Diseases and Treatments (


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