The neck is a vital part of our anatomy that connects the head to the body. It is where the spinal cord begins; and, it houses the cervical spine that plays a crucial role in protecting the nerves that transmit sensory and motor signals between the brain and the rest of the body.
The neck also houses the carotid arteries, a major pair of blood vessels that supply blood to different regions of the brain. Any blockage or narrowing in these arteries, can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain and lead to serious health issues, such as a stroke.
The neck can be divided into two compartments: the anterior (front) and posterior (back). Like other body parts, the neck can experience health problems.
The Anterior (Front) Compartment
The Anterior Compartment of the neck includes important structures like the windpipe (trachea), voice box (larynx), and food pipe (esophagus). It also contains vital blood vessels such as the carotid arteries and jugular veins.
Health issues related to the anterior compartment of the neck include:
- Tracheal stenosis: This occurs when the trachea narrows, making it difficult to breathe. It can result from injury, infection, or other causes.
- Thyroid disorders: The thyroid gland, which produces hormones that regulate metabolism, can develop various conditions, such as goiter, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid cancer.
- Laryngeal and pharyngeal cancer: The larynx and pharynx are parts of the throat that can develop cancer, leading to difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, or a lump in the neck.
- Esophageal disorders: The esophagus is a tube that connects the throat to the stomach, and it can develop conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), esophagitis, or esophageal cancer.
- Carotid artery disease: The carotid arteries, located on either side of the neck, can become narrowed or blocked by plaque build-up, increasing the risk of stroke.
- Cervical lymphadenopathy: This refers to enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, which can be a sign of infection, inflammation, or cancer.
The Posterior (Back) Compartment
The Posterior Compartment of the neck houses the spine, including the cervical vertebrae, which protect the spinal cord and nerves. It also contains muscles that help us move and support the head.
Health issues related to the posterior compartment of the neck include:
- Neck pain: a common condition that can result from poor posture, muscle strain, injury, or underlying health conditions such as arthritis or a herniated disk.
- Neck stiffness: This can be a symptom of various conditions, including muscle strain, poor posture, or cervical spondylosis (age-related wear and tear of the neck vertebrae).
- Cervical radiculopathy: This condition is caused by the compression or irritation of a nerve in the neck; resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness that radiates into the arm.
- Cervical dystonia: This is a rare neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions in the neck; resulting in abnormal head and neck movements.
- Whiplash: This is a neck injury that often occurs in car accidents or other situations where the head is violently jerked forward and backward. It can result in neck pain, stiffness, and other symptoms.
- Cervical disc herniation: This occurs when one of the discs in the neck ruptures or bulges, pressing on a nerve, causing pain and other symptoms.
- Osteoarthritis: This is a degenerative joint disease that can affect the neck, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
Looking at all the health issues related to the neck listed above, giving due care and attention to your neck would be a wise decision.
Getting your neck screened is an important first step for the detection of underlying health issues.
When you should go for a neck ultrasound?
Neck ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the structures in the neck, such as the thyroid gland, lymph nodes, blood vessels, and other soft tissues.
The main function of neck ultrasound is to help diagnose and monitor various health conditions, such as:
- Thyroid disorders: Neck ultrasound can detect changes in the size, shape, or texture of the thyroid gland, which may indicate conditions such as nodules, goiter, or thyroid cancer.
- Lymph node abnormalities: Neck ultrasound can identify enlarged or abnormal lymph nodes, which can be a sign of infection, inflammation, or cancer.
- Vascular conditions: Neck ultrasound can assess the blood flow in the carotid arteries, jugular veins, and other blood vessels in the neck, which can help diagnose conditions such as carotid artery stenosis, thrombosis, or aneurysm.
- Salivary gland diseases: Neck ultrasound can detect abnormalities in the salivary glands, such as stones, inflammation, or tumors.
- Neck masses: Neck ultrasound can help determine the nature and location of any abnormal masses or lumps in the neck, which may require further investigation or treatment.
What are the common symptoms of neck problems?
A neck ultrasound is highly recommended if you experience some of these symptoms:
- Swelling or lumps in the neck
- Pain or tenderness in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Hoarseness or other changes in voice
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unusual fast heart rate
Neck ultrasound is a safe and non-invasive imaging technique for the anterior (front) compartment of the neck. It can provide valuable diagnostic information and assist in the management of various health conditions.
Preparing for Your Neck Ultrasound: Do's and Don'ts
If you decide to undergo an ultrasound on your neck, there is no need to fast beforehand.
However, it is advised to wear loose and comfortable clothing that allows easy access to the neck for the ultrasound scanning. It is also recommended to remove any jewellery, especially necklaces, before the examination.
After the examination, your healthcare provider will review the results with you and discuss any further testing or treatment that may be necessary.
“Pay attention to your neck; it is the one thing that holds your head up”