Injuries to the neck may originate with the bones of the cervical spine, the disks present in the spinal column, the spinal cord, the nerves that extend into the neck, or the muscles that work with the cervical spine to create movement.
The neck is generally described as the region of the human anatomy that extends from the base of the skull to the top of the shoulders. It is supported by the cervical spine, a portion of the backbone that is a series of seven vertebrae, semicircular bones that are assembled into a column. Between each vertebrae is a disk, a ring-shaped fibrous structure that is designed to assist in the absorption and cushion of the shocks received by the spine.
The vertebrae are connected to one another by facets, ligaments that permit the various vertebrae to flex in movement. The cervical vertebrae are constructed to permit the head and the neck to move the head forward, backward, and in rotation. Vertebrae are designated in accordance with their position in the spine; the cervical, or neck, vertebrae are numberd C1 through C7, with the C1 vertebrae being the structure that supports the skull.
The vertebrae are shaped to provide bone protection to the spinal cord, which extends from the brain through the length of the spine; the brain and the spinal cord are the components of the central nervous system. From the spinal cord emanate nerves from individual openings in each of the vertebrae, extending into the body to create the network of muscular control and direction that is the peripheral nervous system. A serious injury to the spinal cord has the potential to ultimately compromise the entire peripheral system.
The muscles that work most closely with the cervical vertebrae to provide movement are the splenius capitis, which is positioned on both sides of the neck along the spine, and the trapezius, the muscles that connect the base of the neck to the shoulders.
The neck is subjected to a number of direct traumas in many different sports. The most common types of sport injuries that involve either the neck of the cervical spin include:
Improper technique in contact sports is the leading cause of cervical spine and neck injuries in sport. When the athlete is either instructed to initiate contact with the head, or when they are reckless in the manner in which their head is exposed to such contact, neck injuries are a far more probable outcome. American football, where all players wear a helmet that in some circumstances accentuates this risk, and ice hockey, where the athletes are subject to being driven into a the barrier surrounding the playing surface, are each higher risk sports for a neck injury.