Conditions of the cervical spine
The neck has many important jobs to do. It has to have the mobility to rotate and bend side to side so we can check for traffic, look down to read and look up to see something higher up. It also needs to have the stability to support our skull and head. It’s important to note that the neck doesn’t only include the muscles surrounding the spine. There are muscles along the sides of the neck as well as the front of the neck that are present and important for maintaining good head posture and mobility. Learn more about the different conditions of the cervical spine.
Age, injury, sports, posture, genetics, and diseases can affect the function and condition of the cervical spine.
The following are some conditions, injuries, or diseases of the cervical spine that can contribute to pain and poor function. Many have very similar-sounding names and can get confusing to differentiate, but I will do my best to make it clear that these are different diagnoses.
Stenosis is the narrowing of the central spinal canal in the cervical spine. This can cause problems with pressure on the spinal cord, called myelopathy, or pressure on the nerve roots that exit the spinal canal, called radiculopathy.
Cervical Spondylosis/Degenerative Disc Disease
This refers to normal age-related changes or wear and tear of the discs in the spine. There is a disc between each vertebra in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. The discs are rubbery with a gel-like center and act as shock absorbers in the spine.
With normal wear and tear, discs can get thinner, dry out, or have small tears. If you have disc degeneration it does not always mean it will cause you pain. Many people with disc degeneration have no pain at all. However, there are cases in which this does cause pain.
This is where the naming of diagnoses starts to get fuzzy because they are so similar sounding. This particular diagnosis refers to a small stress fracture in a specific part of a vertebra called the pars articularis. It is caused by overuse or repetitive stress/load in the area.
Also known as Ankylosing Spondylitis, this refers to a more inflammatory type of arthritic change that can result in a fusion of some levels of the vertebrae. This would lead to restrictions in global motion.
The final of the confusing names! This last condition indicates when one of the vertebrae has slipped forward. Ideally, the vertebrae are nicely lined up and stacked on top of each other. Depending on the severity, when one slips forward it can lead to pain, or begin to press on the nerve roots leading to numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Can Physical Therapy Help?
There are many things physical therapists can do to help in all of these conditions. We can help restore mobility, decrease muscle tension, and help with posture and stability of the cervical spine. If you are experiencing any neck issues or have been diagnosed with the conditions above, please come see us at Freedom Physical Therapy!