The cervical vertebrae are the seven bones that make up the region of the spinal column directly below the skull. Commonly known as the neck, the purpose of the cervical spine is to support the skull, protect the upper spinal cord, and enable a wide range of head and neck movement.
Like vertebrae in the lumbar spine (lower back) and thoracic spine (middle back), the cervical vertebrae surround the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord passes, and include oval-shaped vertebral bodies that are cushioned by intervertebral discs. Since cervical bones are located in the neck and only have to support the weight of the head, they are much smaller than most of the other bones within the spinal column.
The cervical vertebrae, such as the atlas and axis, are subject to a number of disorders, such as spinal stenosis and spondylosis. These conditions cause symptoms that include neck soreness or stiffness, burning pain, weakness in the arms, or pain around the shoulder blades. Oftentimes, conditions affecting the cervical bones occur as a result of aging, as bone density and disc elasticity deteriorate over time. Injury and accidents also can contribute to cervical vertebrae disorders.
If you are experiencing pain and discomfort in your neck, it’s important to see a doctor early in order to prevent further, more permanent damage. He or she can perform a physical and neurological exam to diagnose your neck pain, and may order imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan. Depending on the severity of damage around your cervical vertebrae, treatment can include hot and cold therapy, massage, and over-the-counter or prescription medication. In the rare event that the condition does not improve with conservative treatment, surgery may be an option.
If your doctor recommends surgery as a treatment option for your neck pain, consider calling Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our minimally invasive, laser-assisted alternatives to traditional open back surgery. Contact us today and we’ll review your MRI or CT scan at no cost to you.