The neck tends to be one part of your body that works hard, but doesn’t get enough credit. It serves as a flexible connection between your head and the rest of your body and contains many nerves and blood vessels vital to your health and continued viability. Your neck contains numerous important structures, including:
Spinal cord. The cervical portion of your spinal cord is located in your neck. Your spinal cord sends messages through nerves from your brain to your body, and from your body back to your brain. The spinal cord stretches all the way down the length of your back.
Vertebrae, disks and ligaments. The vertebrae are bones that encase and protect your spinal cord. Intervertebral disks are located between each vertebra and help to absorb shock and allow your spine greater flexibility. Ligaments in your neck stabilize your vertebrae and help hold them in place.
Nerves. A network of nerves in your neck sends signals to your brain and body. When a vertebral disk places pressure on the nerves in your neck, you may experience neck pain. Many of the nerves in your neck stretch into your arms, which is why problems with the neck often lead to arm and shoulder symptoms, in addition to neck pain.
The Tubes. The pharynx is a hollow tube that connects your nose and throat to your esophagus and trachea. Your larynx, or voice box, sits just below your pharynx. It contains your vocal cords, which give you your voice. Your trachea is the tube that allows air to flow between your mouth, nose, and lungs. The esophagus provides a passageway for food and liquid to move from the mouth into the stomach.
Glands. The thyroid is an essential gland that is located in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that help regulate metabolism. The parathyroid glands are small glands adjacent to the thyroid gland. They release a critical hormone that helps control the amount of calcium in the blood. Lymph nodes are located in many parts of your body, including the neck. They help to drain impurities out of the body and contain infection-fighting blood cells.
While the neck is connected to the spine, it is not as sheltered as the rest of the backbone. This means this slim structure is prone to problems. Neck pain generally arises from muscle strain. But since your neck is so complex, there can be other, more serious causes of neck pain. If you are having neck pain, it is important to see your doctor, especially if your neck pain is intense or persistent, or is accompanied by other worrisome symptoms such as fever, severe headache, or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.
Most neck pain improves gradually with home treatment. Seek immediate care if severe neck pain results from an injury, such as a motor vehicle accident, diving accident or fall. Contact one of our doctors if your neck pain:
- Is severe
- Persists for several days without relief
- Spreads down arms or legs
- Is accompanied by headache, numbness, weakness or tingling