Four Problems That Can Affect Your Cervical Spine

Four Problems That Can Affect Your Cervical Spine

Board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Doherty leads a team of spine specialists here at Yale Neurosurgery New London in New London, Connecticut. Our group is known for combining the most advanced treatments available with a patient-first strategy that’s customized to fit your needs.

Understanding the cervical spine

The cervical spine, better known as your neck, has seven vertically stacked vertebrae that form a protective canal for the spinal cord, which travels from the base of your skull to the lower back.

The spinal cord houses the nerves that make movement, sensation, and automatic functions like breathing possible. The bony vertebral column also supports the 12-pound weight of your head throughout the day.

Discs between each of the vertebrae offer cushioning, and tiny hinge-like facet joints attach the vertebrae to one another and make it possible, with the help of about 20 different muscles, to tip, tilt, and twist your head. Various ligaments and tendons help hold everything in place.

Any of these structures are vulnerable to injury, overuse, or disease that can affect mobility and cause varying degrees of pain.

Four problems that can affect the health of your cervical spine

1. Cervical spondylosis

Often due to age-related changes in the spine caused by osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis can cause the vertebral bodies and cartilage in facet joints to wear and erode. Ligaments that attach bone to bone also become less elastic with age, which can cause generalized stiffening of your neck.

Intervertebral discs can also shrink and break down over time. This causes them to lose their cushioning effect and may lead to painful bone-on-bone contact between the vertebrae. This can also cause the development of bone spurs.

2. Herniated disc

A herniated disc occurs when the soft center of an intervertebral disc pushes or bulges through the outer disc layer. This may lead to varying degrees of pain and decreased mobility if the bulging disc material forces its way into the spinal canal or other sensitive areas.

3. Cervical spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when spaces in the spine narrow and compress the spinal cord or nerve roots exiting the canal through openings (foramen) in the facet joints. This is frequently caused by herniated discs, bone spurs protruding into the canal, and other issues related to spinal degeneration.

4. Pinched nerve

Cervical radiculopathy is the medical term for a pinched or compressed nerve in the neck. This irritates and inflames the nerve and can cause varying degrees of pain in the neck as well as numbness, discomfort, tingling, and weakness in the shoulders and arms.

Radiculopathy may be related to any condition that compromises the structural integrity of the spine, such as stenosis, a herniated disc, or bone spur formation.

Treating neck problems

Every case at Yale Neurosurgery New London is different, but based on the results of your evaluation, Dr. Doherty typically starts with conservative therapies such as physical therapy, activity modification, or epidural steroid injections to reduce nerve inflammation and irritation.

If your pain persists or interferes with your daily routine and overall quality of life, he may recommend surgical intervention. Dr. Doherty and his group specialize in minimally invasive neck surgery, including robotic surgical procedures. They also support your recovery and rehab following surgery to ensure the best possible outcome. 

For an accurate diagnosis of what’s causing your back pain or neck pain, schedule a visit at Yale Neurosurgery New London today.

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