Cervical Spine Pain Definitions

From WikiMSK

Cervical somatic pain, cervical radicular pain, and cervical radiculopathy all have different meanings. It is vital that the distinction in meaning is understood. Confusion often arises because both neck pain and cervical radicular pain are caused by disorders of the cervical spine. Other than the common site of disease, the conditions are completely different.

Cervical Spine Pain

Cervical Spine Pain
Pain perceived as arising from anywhere within the region bounded superiorly by the superior nuchal line, inferiorly by an imaginary transverse line through the tip of the first thoracic spinous process, and laterally by sagittal planes tangential to the borders of the neck[1]

This can be further divided into

  • Suboccipital pain - between superior nuchal line and C2
  • Upper cervical pain - above transverse line through C4
  • Lower cervical pain - below C4

Bogduk emphasises that cervical spinal pain is perceived posteriorly, but this is opinion. He states that pain in the region of the anterior cervical spine is called throat pain and there is a lack of any definition by an international authority. He further states that practitioners wanting to use the term "anterior neck pain" need to prove that it is coming from the cervical spine.[2] He does not provide any references for these claims. In the editor's opinion, the claims are wrong.

  • The term "neck lump" usually refers to pain in the anterior neck - throat lump has a completely different meaning, and refers to a lump in the pharynx.
  • The anterior neck is divided into the "triangles of the neck," not "triangles of the throat."
  • What Bogduk calls "throat pain" is commonly used to mean pain in the oropharynx, and is not usually used to refer to pain in the anterior or posterior triangles of the neck.
  • With regards to proof of causation, he provides no justification as to why such a higher standard of evidence be required for anterior neck pain than posterior neck pain. To use his own argument for posterior neck pain, anterior neck pain simply references a location, not the cause of the pain. Furthermore, "anterior neck pain" does not include the term "cervical spine."

Timing of pain

  • Acute pain: Pain <3 months
  • Chronic pain: Pain > 3 months

Cervical Radicular Pain

See also: Cervical Radicular Pain
Cervical Radicular Pain
Pain perceieved in the upper limb[1]

Cervical spine pain and cervical radicular pain are two completely different entities. They have difference causes, and different evidence base for diagnosis and management.

Somatic Referred Pain

See also: Cervical Pain Maps
Somatic Referred Pain
Pain perceived in a region innervated by nerves other than those that innervate the source of the pain.[1]
Pain maps with noxious stimulation of cervical facet joints in volunteers.[3]

The mechanisms is convergence. Sources in the cervical spine can have pain referred to the head, upper limb, interscapular region, and anterior chest wall. Headaches occur after noxious stimulation of C2-3 zygapophyseal joints, lateral atlanto-axial joints, and atlantooccipital joints.


  1. โ†‘ 1.0 1.1 1.2 IASP. Classification of Chronic Pain
  2. โ†‘ Bogduk, Nikolai, and Brian McGuirk. Management of acute and chronic neck pain : an evidence-based approach. Edinburgh New York: Elsevier, 2006.
  3. โ†‘ Dwyer et al.. Cervical zygapophyseal joint pain patterns. I: A study in normal volunteers. Spine 1990. 15:453-7. PMID: 2402682. DOI.