A normal neck has a smooth curve, the degree of which can vary depending on the position you are in. But if you lose that curve due to injury, a displacement that persists for a long period of time, or some other reason, the rest of your body may be affected as well.
Loss of cervical curvature has several names, including flat neck syndrome, cervical kyphosis, military neck, and when the decrease in the degree of curvature goes in the opposite direction to the normal reverse curvature of the neck. Although it is not among the most serious neck conditions, it can affect how you feel in one or more ways.
Why the curves of the spine?
Your spine is divided into four curves . When viewed from the side, two curves, often called "normal kyphotic curves" or kyphosis , recede backwards. The other two curves advance and are called "normal lordotic curves" or lordosis .
We are born with our kyphotic curves; We develop our lordotic curves as we acquire the ability to lift our heads and learn to walk. For this reason, the kyphotic and lordotic curves are sometimes called primary and secondary curves, respectively.
The curves of the spine help balance the spine and work together to counteract gravitational compression, redistributing stress back and forth, not just up and down.
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Symptoms of flat neck syndrome
Flat neck syndrome, also known as military neck, is a condition in which the normal lordosis of the cervical spine decreases or even disappears completely. But losing the curve can go much further. Once the neck curve becomes straight, it can even shift in the opposite direction, a condition aptly called an inverted neck curve.
Reduction of the lordotic arch is not the only feature of flat neck syndrome. There may also be greater flexion (forward bend) at the joint between the skull and the first bone in the neck . Excessive flexion at this point leads to a greater extension of the cervical spine and all the structures of the spine below.
While this extension, known as axial extension, can be helpful for problems with the correct curvature of the spine, it can be counterproductive if the spine remains in this position. Basically, it brings your spine out of neutrality and increases the gravitational compression on your spine.
Fewer movements are available with axial extension, in part because you have to use your muscles so hard to maintain position.
Loss of cervical flexion makes the muscles in the front of the neck less flexible and can lead to overstretching of other muscles, including the anterior and posterior paraspinal muscles and the suboccipital muscles.
Flat neck syndrome can affect the curvature of other parts of the spine, aggravating a problem known as a military back. A condition in which the upper back is abnormally flat increases the risk of spinal compression and degeneration.
Some of the causes of flat neck and / or bent neck syndrome include :
- Degenerative disc disease
- Birth defects
- Spine surgery (the so-called iatrogenic injury)
- Injury or trauma to the neck.
- Tumor, infection, or systemic disease
Flat neck syndrome can often put undue stress on the nuchal ligament, the ligament that limits possible neck flexion. It is located in the back of the neck, starting at the back of the skull and reaching the last bone of the cervical spine.
If you have flat neck syndrome, you may be prone to injury because restriction of movement reduces the shock absorbing capacity of your spine. Also, since the condition is not painful, you may not realize its limitations until trauma occurs.
Some injuries in people with flat neck syndrome can spread to the spinal cord itself, causing pain and pressure in the neck, numbness or tingling at the base of the skull, double vision, and difficulty swallowing .
When to contact a healthcare provider
If you have signs of flat neck syndrome and experience pain or abnormal sensations of any kind, especially in the neck or base of the skull, contact your doctor or request a referral to a podiatry specialist.
While most people do not need treatment for a flat neck, some may benefit from massage, exercise, and physical therapy. One particular exercise that almost all physicians treating this condition give their patients is the cervical retraction exercise . In rare cases, a broken spinal cord may require surgery .