A pain in the neck- “a look at degenerative cervical disorders”By John Hart

A pain in the neck- “a look at degenerative cervical disorders”
Our neck or cervical area of our spine is made up of 7 bones called vertebrae separated by discs.

Our discs act as shock absorbers and cushion the vertebrae. Each joint in the cervical area make us able to turn our head from left to right and enable us to also move our head forward and backwards.

Over a number of years and also due to rough play such as sporting activities these disks slowly become flattened, can bulge or rupture and are less elastic due to this wear and tear. When this process occurs in the disks it is referred to as cervical disc disease. You may also hear terms such as degenerative disc disease and intervertebral disc disease.

Cervical disc disease will affect everyone to some degree simply due to the ageing process often resulting in annoying and in some cases severe pain which can radiate into the head down the arm and into the fingers causing numbness. These conditions can then affect nerve functioning that place pressure on the nerves as they exit the spinal column.

Vertebrae may then contact each other and will result in bone spurs that can place pressure and entrap these nerves. In other cases, the inner part of the disc may push on the spinal cord, which passes through the disk. This activity can cause pain and in turn limit movement.

Cervical disk disease can take years and can be a gradual process that occurs with aging, though poor posture, weak muscles, damage due to sporting injuries and also can be attributed to a genetic vulnerability.

The condition can also affect the hand, shoulder, and arm resulting in pain, numbness, a tingling sensation and weakness in muscles such as the triceps. If the spinal cord itself is affected, these symptoms may occur in the legs. In severe cases a loss of bowel or bladder control may occur.

It is a good idea to have your doctor conduct an examination. Have your doctor send you for a CT scan or a MRI to allow for the best diagnosis possible. Playing the guessing game is not recommended, you need to see exactly what is taking place. An ordinary x-ray will show you disc distance however a CT scan or MRI will be much more accurate showing possible nerve impingement.

In my opinion surgery would be a last resort. Often when the degeneration settles down (which can take some time) the pain will subside. First defence of treatment usually involves physical therapy, several weeks of appropriate drug therapy with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), heat treatments, exercise to strengthen the surrounding muscles, and some magnesium to assist with muscular spasm, may also be useful. Some patients have had success with steroids or anaesthetic drugs that are injected into the spinal canal while others have had no response from these treatments.

Maintaining good posture and placing a pillow under the neck and head during sleep can be helpful. Neck surgery is not usually advised unless other non invasive treatments have failed.

Alternative therapies such as dry needling, therapeutic massage, and yoga are believed by some to have pain-relieving effects. However be careful of any methods that involve manipulating the neck. This is not recommended.

While some degree of disk degeneration is inevitable people can reduce their risk by practicing good posture performing neck-stretching exercises and maintaining their weight.
It is important to keep active, but do not over exert yourself. The balance between mild to moderate exercise and rest is necessary. It is usual for the discomfort to improve with time, although the stiffness may remain.

Regular gentle exercise for the neck will help the pain and stiffness to ease along with massage to release tight muscles in the opposing and surrounding areas. Some exercise physiologists may recommend some gentle stretching exercises. For some hydrotherapy will help overcome tightness with the cervical region.

Stretches that may help maintain range of motion include:

1. Stand upright with good posture

2. Slowly rotate your head to move your chin towards one shoulder and then the opposite one.

3. Avoid moving the neck backwards which only serves to escalate the problem.

The movements should be slow and controlled and should not cause uncomfortable pain.
Neck and shoulder strengthening is also recommended. New data shows that weight training for the shoulder and neck muscles helps relieve neck pain due to osteoarthritis. Also a relative harmless drug known as “Panadol Osteo” can relieve pain. This product has no codeine and is gentle on the stomach and kidneys and doesn’t cause constipation. However always check with your doctor before taking any medication it may effect other medicines you are taking.


John Hart

“Master’s In Education” (Disability) Newcastle University Australia

“Grad Cert Education” Newcastle University Australia

“Diploma Fitness/Recreation”

“Cert 4 Personal Training”

“Level 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach”

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