It is estimated that as much as 70% of the population will have neck pain some time in their lives and the incidence of neck pain appears to be increasing.
Muscles and joints of the neck can be common sources of pain (see Muscle & Joint Pain page). In addition to those, here are some cervical spine conditions that physical therapy can help you with:
Disc Bulge or Herniation –The intervertebral discs of the spine provide shock absorption and stability throughout the neck, upper back, and lower back. The disc has two basic components; the nucleus pulposus which is a gel-like substance and the annulus fibrosus which is a rubber-like substance. Acute or repetitive trauma of the neck can cause the rubber-like part of the disc to crack like a used tire which results in the gel-like nucleus of the disc to “bulge” or herniate through the annulus. There are 4 types of disc herniations which can result in varying levels of pain or dysfunction. Cervical disc herniations are most common at C5-6 and C6-7 at the lower part of the neck.
Degenerative Disc Disease – This is an age-related condition where the discs of the spine break down and deteriorate. It has been reported that the disc is comprised of as much as 88% water. As we age, we lose some of this water content which contributes to the break down of the disc and a loss of disc height. This process is, in part, the reason people get shorter as they age. One main difference between DDD and disc herniations as described above, is that DDD typically causes local neck pain only, whereas disc herniations typically cause neck pain and radiating pain into the shoulder and arm.
Pinched Nerve – A pinched nerve in the neck results in pain in the neck, upper back, shoulder blade, arm, and/or hand. Sometimes the pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness. This condition is specifically referred to as radiculopathy. Pinched nerves in the neck are usually caused by a disc herniation as described above or by degenerative joint disease leading to stenosis (narrowing) of the spinal canals. Disc herniation is more likely in 30-50 year olds whereas stenosis from DJD is more common in adults over 50.
Spinal stenosis – This is the narrowing of the canals or spaces in the spine. Narrowing can occur in the central canal where the spinal cord sits or it can occur in the foramen, the holes on the sides of the spine where nerves run. Stenosis can be caused by a disc herniation but the condition typically refers to narrowing caused by degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.
Whiplash – This is a type of injury caused by a forceful, quick back-and-forth motion of the neck which often occurs in motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or falls.