Neck Pain Anatomy

Chiropractic Help

Neck pain anatomy is for those who want to understand their cervical spine problems from a chiropractic help perspective.

This page will help you understand that fragile part of your body; it's no simple organ. Cervical spine conditions are so frequent because of the extreme complexity and sensitivity of the many structures.

This brief survey highlights its exquisite construction, explaining why discomfort, often extreme, is so common; usually just a chronic dull ache but sometimes very severe. A torticollis, caused by a facet joint lock hurts a lot.

Headache is a common symptom after injury to the upper cervical spine; it's an area that we excel in, but dangers lurk. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

A complex variety of syndromes in the upper extremity occur after injury to the lower cervical spine, depending on which of the five nerve roots are affected.

The heavy skull and brain are precariously balanced on seven highly complexly engineered and exquisitely made cervical bones or vertebrae, each a possible source of discomfort. That part of the spine starts below the cranium and ends just above the shoulder.

It normally has a lordotic curve; a backward C shape which, if altered by injury, almost always is associated with chronic neck pain. 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 head, normally without any discomfort.

Neck Pain Anatomy

The structure is tightly bound together by discs, ligaments and muscles, all potential sources of neck pain.

It's not so tight though that it cannot move. Thirty three joints make the cervical spine highly mobile, yet stable; each may be a source of the common painful neck.

Though the cervical spine is very flexible, it is also very much at risk from injury due to powerful, sudden movements, such as whiplash type accidents and falls.

This high risk of harm is due to the limited muscular support that exists in the neck, and because this part of the spine has to support the weight of the head.

This is a lot of weight for a small, thin set of bones and soft tissues to bear. Therefore, sudden, strong head movement can cause damage.

Horse riders and gymnasts, boxers and rugby players almost always have injuries in this region causing a painful neck.

Through the neck travel the most exquisitely sensitive pain structures in the human frame; the spinal cord and nerves emerging to supply various parts of the body, particularly the arms and scalp.

They are very prone to injury by stretching, as in whiplash, by pinching by facet joints, uncovertebral joints, disc joints and other conditions such as tumours and aneurisms.

The BONES, known as vertebrae

Two vertebrae in the cervical spine, the atlas and the axis, differ in their neck pain anatomy from the other vertebrae because they are designed specifically for rotation. These two vertebrae are what allow your neck to rotate in so many directions, including looking to the side. Because of their proximity to the brainstem and the spinal cord, any injury, fracture, displacement, or fixation (jamming) has the potential to cause severe neck pain, headache and a host of neurological conditions. Car accidents, falls, blows to the head commonly injure this part of the spine. The Hangman’s knot is specifically designed to fracture the axis, and rupture the spinal cord. Hence the so-called ‘Hangman’s fracture’, found in serious accidents.

The atlas is the first cervical vertebra -- the bone that sits between the skull and the rest of spine. The atlas does not have a vertebral body, being made up of a complex ring. The atlas sits on top of the second cervical vertebra -- the axis. The axis has a bony knob called the odontoid process, also known as the the dens that sticks up through the hole in the atlas. It is this special arrangement that allows the head to rotate so far from side to side. Special ligaments between these two vertebrae allow a great deal of rotation to occur between the two bones.

Atlanto Axial Joint

Seven delicate and highly complexly engineered vertebrae make up the bony structure of the neck pain anatomy, cushioned by the "inter-vertebral disc".

The black arrow shows where the so-called "hangman's fracture" occurs - through the pedicle on both sides. This is also caused by the head hitting the dashboard in a head on collision. One more reason to use a safety belt. Research shows that in most suidicidal hangings there isn't sufficient drop to fracture the pedicles, and the victim dies a horrible prolonged death by asphyxiation.

Notice in this X-ray below how a short leg, giving a tilted pelvis and a scoliosis, goes all the way up into the neck. New research suggests that a heel lift to correct a leg length inequality may also help neck pain.

Joints in the neck.

There are 33 tiny joints between the bones of the neck and between the neck and the skull. The bones are separated by discs, made up of concentric circles of fibrous material with a bubble of gel in the centre, acting as shock absorbers for the all bouncing, jogging, jumping movements of the neck.

There are several different types of joints in neck pain anatomy. Disc joints, facet joints, unco vertebral joints, and some other highly specialised joints in the upper neck, but they all have one thing in common: important nerves, the most sensitive tissue in the body, travel close by.

Any injury, swelling, strain and sprain has the immediate potential to affect the nerves traveling to the neck, shoulder, arm, head and the whole body, causing pain, headache, tingling and dysfunction of the organs they supply.


What's more, the sensory nucleus of the nerve to the jaw joint is located in the upper neck. Thus jaw and neck pain are often intimately related, and to be jointly and separately addressed in teh management of facial, neck, and jaw joint pain. TMJ ANATOMY ...

Why do we hiccup ? Hiccuping is a reflex contraction of the Diaphragm muscle, causing a sudden intake of breath that snaps the epiglottis closed. A hic. Irritation of the Phrenic nerve roots (C3-C4-C5), the nerve itself or one of the tissues supplied by the Phrenic nerve are the usual causes. Read more …WHY DO WE HICCUP ?

Nerves and Discs

The so-called brachial plexus is a large group of nerves that emerge from tiny foramena in the neck. They travel to and from the arms, as explained in neck pain anatomy, where they initiate muscle action (eg picking up a sandwich) and sense changes at the skin. Cold, hot, touch, vibration etc. They also tell the brain where the hand is in space for example, without your eyes having to look.

Tingling in arms and hands

Between each pair of spinal bones is a large disc. It consists of two parts, an outer washer made of very tough fibres and an inner bubble of gel which is like a large shock absorber. whilst reading about neck pain anatomy I feel sure you have heard of the so-called slipped disk in which the gel has bulged out through the surrounding washer. it may cause for example very specific pain, numbness and tingling in fingers one and two ...

Frank pinching of these nerves may cause severe pain and disability in the arm, but even irritation of the nerve roots will cause shoulder pain, and make one prone to other conditions in the lower arm:


The cervical spine is stabilised in the upright position by many very strong ligaments, that stretch from bone to another maintaining the correct posture and giving stability. Some are tiny, for example those holding the ring of the atlas in position, whilst others are very large, thick and long. They are a very important part of neck pain anatomy.

Neck pain can originate in the muscles of the neck. The head and cervical spine are able to move because of muscles that control and initiate the movements. Looking up at the ceiling, checking under your bed for your shoes, and looking for traffic as you cross the street; all these movements are controlled by the soft tissues.

There are also stabilising muscles whose primary function to maintain the neck in the upright position.

Muscles were designed to move.

Even maintaining a healthy muscle in the same position for a long period of time, as in sitting in front of a computer, driving a car, or lying on the stomach all night with the head turned will cause fatigue and neck pain.

There are many large and tiny muscles in the neck, each a source of neck pain anatomy.

I found a page that will give you a simple test that you can do find out how strong your neck muscles are, and some really quite profound neck exercises: JULLS TEST ...

Manipulation of the neck has recently received strong condemnation from Chiropratic's critics as being highly dangerous and can cause a stroke. While this is acknowledged, it is so rare that it can largely be ignored (approximately equivalent to being struck by lightning on the golf course).

What our critics conveniently ignore is just how much more dangerous anti inflammatory drugs and analgesics are. All forms of treatment of any and every condition have potential dangers it should be candidly admitted, and in this regard chiropractic is no different.

I hope NECK PAIN ANATOMY has given you some idea of the complexity of your neck.

We haven't forgotten you, Maureen. One of those very special people. She was one of the 14,000 Americans who die every year from a bleeding ulcer, directly caused by anti inflammatory drugs. That's medicine's own research figure.


Any very sudden, traumatic jolt to the head and neck has the potential to injury all of these structures. That could be when the body suddenly stops, but your head keeps going (as when a car hits a tree), or when something smashes into your head.

This week it was young woman whose head was very forcibly struck by a water ski, last week a child kicked on the head and neck by a horse, every week car accidents, old and new. Falls from a horse, sport, bicycles... all need to be carefully managed, otherwise Immobilisation Arthritis and irritation of nerves almost invariably occurs.


Go to and see what drugs can do to your organs:

Tip: Especially don't take medication before your consultation with your chiropractor. Deaden the pain and you may confuse him/her. It's far more difficult to diagnose and assess the problem of the drugged patient.

An apparently insoluble neck problem?


It's not often that I rave about a commercially available product. However there is no doubt whatsoever that She-who-must-be-obeyed needs less than half the amount of chiropractic help since I bought her a Posturite, quite expensive, worth every cent.

Notice too the small 3 watt LED lamp. We are rapidly changing over to LEDs. Requiring extremely little energy, a fifteen year warranty on the globes, they will quite soon be the only globes available.

Chiropractic Help

I alluded above that there are dangers associated with manipulation of the cervical spine. It's true, but the chances of serious adverse effects are very slim; very. About one chiropractor in twenty will once in his lifetime stroke a patient; statistically that considered very safe. Far safer than taking aspirin every day, for example.

Manipulation, like most other orthopaedic procedures, in an art as well as science; chiropractors start learning how to be highly specific and how to use the very least force to achieve their purpose from the very beginning of their training. It's not something you learn at a few weekend courses.

Medical physical therapists have been banned from frank manipulation of the cervical spine after several serious adverse effects in a short term. In short, it's a complex procedure, done expertly by highly skilled doctors after a long training.


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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

Do you have a problem that is not getting better?

Are you looking for a different slant on your pain?

Do you want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.

You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70 percent of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there is a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong. Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what a DC does.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my eBooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful from the life and work of a chiropractor, you will love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the amount without telling me.