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As people get older, the effects of everyday use accumulates and causes wear to the vertebra, facet joints, discs and soft tissues that make up the spine. The intervertebral discs of the spine dessicate and shrink, and the ligaments and muscle tendons stiffen. Changes occur to the actual physical shape of our vertebra and to the small joints (facet joints) that join the vertebra together. This shape deformation can limit movement and contribute to the stiffness, pain and discomfort that we experience. Cervical spondylosis is the collective term for this process.
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Facet joints are important for movement and flexibility, particularly in the neck (known as the cervical spine) for rotational movements. Simple sudden abrupt movements, such as unexpected forced rotation of your neck, or an awkward movement (such as tripping) can injure and irritate a facet joint. In most cases this is due to the fact that the muscles could not control the unexpected or abrupt movement in time to prevent injury to the joint.
Whiplash is a term used to describe neck pain following an injury to the soft tissues of the neck and, sometimes, also the spinal joints (facet joints). A movement that forces the neck beyond its normal range of motion is a typical causative factor. This is typically in either forced forwards (flexion) and/or backwards movements (extension). Typically the prognosis is good and there is usually no permanent damage. Other issues are often derived from our occupation. In the modern workplace environment we can expose ourselves to long periods of postural strain that over time impose heavy loads on musculature in the arms, shoulders and neck. Headaches and neck or shoulder pains are often derived from long hours working on computers or alternatively driving over long distances
As we grow older our intevertebral discs dessicate, shrink and loose height. Often as part of this process the discs can bulge and protrude and are capable of making contact with delicate nerves that innervate our shoulders, arms and hands. Intervertebral discs can also herniate or prolapse through sudden forced movement or unexpected trauma. This causes huge local inflammation that results in pressure on nerves. Another common cause of trapped nerves in the neck is the development of small bony growths on vertebra and/or joints called osteophytes (these can be seen on X-ray). These are progressively common in people over 60 years old can also cause nerve compression.
Many headaches are caused by musculoskeletal tension in the neck and upper back, this accounts for up to 70% of headaches. Possible causes of tension headaches include poor posture, stress, and muscular fatigue through repetitive strain, eyestrain or even hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle. Headaches of this type are called cervicogenic headaches because the origin is from the neck (or cervical spine). Migraines however have a very different nature to normal headaches. The classic migraine, or migraine with aura, is characterized by sensory disturbances such as nausea or sensitivity to sound, or smell. The migraine without aura, as the name suggests, does not comprise any sensory symptoms.