Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Stiff Neck Anatomy

To better understand neck pain, it helps to understand the anatomy of the neck and cervical spine.

The neck contains many important structures. The trachea, esophagus, spinal cord and large blood vessels run through the neck. The thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, and lymph nodes are also present in the neck.

The neck also contains 7 stacked spine bones called vertebrae. This column of bones starts under the skull and continues to the upper back.

Bones of the cervical spine:

  • Bones of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • Cervical spine side view
  • Cervical spine back view
  • Cervical spine front view

Inside the spinal column is a tube for the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a thick bundle of nerves that starts at the bottom of the brain. It carries information back and forth between the body and the brain.

In between the vertebrae are the disks. The disks act as rubber pads in between each vertebrae of the spine. Each disk attaches to the bottom of the vertebra above it, and to the top of the vertebrae below it. Strong ligaments and muscles hold the vertebral column together. All of these structures support, surround, and protect the spinal cord.

Anatomy examples:
  • The vertebral disks
  • Spinal nerves exiting the spinal column in the neck
  • Spinal cord and nerves
  • View of disks and ligaments

Last Updated: Nov 4, 2008 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Stiff Neck References
  1. Friedman MH, Nelson AJ Jr. Head and neck pain review: traditional and new perspectives. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1996 Oct;24(4):268-78. [8892141]
  2. Hoving JL, Gross AR, Gasner D, Kay T, Kennedy C, Hondras MA, Haines T, Bouter LM. A critical appraisal of review articles on the effectiveness of conservative treatment for neck pain. Spine. 2001 Jan 15;26(2):196-205. [11154541]
  3. Linton SJ. A review of psychological risk factors in back and neck pain. Spine. 2000 May 1;25(9):1148-56. [10788861]
  4. Melis M, Zawawi K, al-Badawi E, Lobo Lobo S, Mehta N. Complex regional pain syndrome in the head and neck: a review of the literature. J Orofac Pain. 2002 Spring;16(2):93-104. [12043524]
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