Neck Pain Causes

A number of conditions can cause chronic or persistent neck pain, and many can occur simultaneously. While some neck pain is caused by injury, the majority results from degenerative conditions from ordinary wear and tear that occurs over time. However, an injury to the cervical spine can hasten or worsen natural degeneration.

For many patients, diagnostic tests will pinpoint the source of your pain, which is essential for evaluating if surgery is the best treatment option.

Among the more common conditions that cause cervical spine pain are:

  • Herniated or slipped disc, ruptured disc, pinched nerve. Spinal discs are rubbery pads located between the vertebrae. In childhood, these discs are gel-like, but as we age, the gel solidifies, making it less pliable and causing the outer surface to weaken. With stress or injury, the disc may swell, which can cause it to become distorted, or protrude in spots. When the bulging area of the disc pushes on a nerve, it can cause severe pain. Often the terms herniated disc, slipped disc, ruptured disc, and pinched nerve are used interchangeably to describe painful conditions that occur in the cervical spine. At South Denver Neurosurgery, we use all of these terms intermittently to refer…the term displaced disc to refer to conditions in which the movement of the disc has caused pain or other symptoms.
  • Facet degeneration. The seven vertebrae in the neck or cervical spine, are connected by joints known as facet joints. Each vertebra has two sets of sliding facet joints, which are filled with lubricating fluid. They allow the cervical spine to twist and also provide stability during movement. These facet joints are in nearly constant motion, and over time, the cartilage that normally cushions the joints can become damaged or deteriorate. This painful form of osteoarthritis can cause a number of symptoms, including: 
    • Joint pain
    • Stiffness and soreness in the neck
    • Headaches
    • Limited mobility

  • Spondylolisthesis.When facet joints disintegrate significantly, they can stop working properly, and one vertebral body will slip forward on top of another.
  • Cervical spinal stenosis. Most common in adults over age 50, this condition occurs when the tissue between and around the vertebrae becomes degenerated in a way that leads to thickening of ligaments and formation of bone spurs.  Both can cause the spinal canal to narrow. (The spinal canal is the hollow passage formed by the vertebrae, through which the spinal cord runs.) When this happens, nerves and the spinal cord may become pinched, causing neck pain or stiffness, arm pain, weakness in the hands, and muscle spasms.
  • Bone spurs. Also known as cervical osteophytes, bone spurs typically result when ligaments and tendons around the bones and joints in the cervical spine are damaged or inflamed. The inflamed or damaged tissue can cause bone cells to grow where they would not normally be found. Because these bone fragments are in places where they don’t belong, they can press on other bones, or ligaments, tendons, and muscles, causing pain.