When a nerve root leaves the spinal cord and the cervical spine, it travels down into the arm. Along the way, each nerve supplies sensation (feeling) to a part of the skin of the shoulder and arm and supplies electrical signals to certain muscles to move part of the arm or hand. When a nerve is irritated or pinched – by either a bone spur or part of the intervertebral disc – it causes the nerve to not work properly. This shows up as: weakness in the muscles the nerve goes to, numbness in the skin where the nerve goes, or pain in the area where the nerve travels. This condition is called cervical radiculopathy.
The cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in the spine. It starts just below the skull and ends just above the thoracic spine. The cervical spine has a lordotic curve, a backward “C”-shape-just like the lumbar spine. The cervical spine is much more mobile than both of the other spinal regions. Think about all the directions and angles you can turn your neck.
Unlike the rest of the spine, there are special openings in each vertebra in the cervical spine for arteries (blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart). The arteries that run through these openings bring blood to the brain.
Two vertebrae in the cervical spine, the atlas and the axis, differ from the other vertebrae because they are designed specifically for rotation. These two vertebrae are the reason your neck can move in so many directions.
The atlas is the first cervical vertebra-the one that sits between the skull and the rest of the spine. The atlas does not have a vertebral body, but it does have a thick forward (anterior) arch and a thin back (posterior) arch with two prominent sideways masses.
The atlas sits on top of the second cervical vertebra, the axis. The axis has a bony knob called the odontoid process, which sticks up through the hole in the atlas. Special ligaments between the atlas and the axis allow for a great deal of rotation. It is this special arrangement that allows the head to turn from side to side as far as it can.
The cervical spine is very flexible, but it is also very much at risk for injury from strong, sudden movements, such as whiplash-type injuries. This high risk of harm is due to the limited muscle support that exists in the cervical area, and the fact that this part of the spine has to support the weight of the head-an average of 15 pounds. This is a lot of weight for a small, thin set of bones and soft tissues to bear. Sudden, strong head movements can cause damage.
John Peloza, M.D., a pioneer in the development of true minimally-invasive spine treatments, founded the Center for Spine Care in 1996. An experienced industry leader, Dr. Peloza offers customized treatment plans to address a patient’s unique and specific source of back or neck pain, from conservative treatments to minimally invasive. If you have neck or back pain, call us at (877) 475-2240, or email us to see if our treatment options are right for you.
Center for Spine Care offers stem cell therapy as a conservative treatment to promote natural healing for back or neck pain. Utilizing mesenchymal stem cells, this new method is used to treat patients with neck and back pain caused from degenerative disc disease.