Golf fans were amazed when Tiger Woods recently withdrew from a golf tournament due to neck pain.
The cervical spine consists of seven bony vertebrae that protect the fragile spinal cord. Emerging from the vertebrae are eight extensions from the spinal cord known as nerve roots. The cervical nerve roots are responsible for sensory and motor functions in the upper extremities.
Discs made of cartilage are positioned between vertebrae to serve as cushions. The discs are held in place by ligaments. Over time, discs become fragile and can move out of place, causing them to herniate.
Whenever there is injury to a nerve root, the term “radiculopathy” is used. The injury is often compressive or inflammatory in origin.
Although neck injuries are commonly seen in collision sports like football and ice hockey, it is not surprising to see it in golf. A powerful golf swing will create a significant amount of torque on the spine, stressing the supporting ligaments.
The evaluation of neck pain consists of a careful physical examination that includes an assessment of strength, sensation and deep tendon reflexes. An imaging study such as a plain X-ray or even an MRI may be necessary.
Conservative treatment often includes rest, anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. If this fails, a range of surgical procedures can be explored.
In the case of Tiger Woods, inflammation of a bony piece of vertebra known as a facet is the reason for his pain. This condition makes any neck movement difficult, but he should have a good response to conservative, non-surgical management.
Recognizing the significance of pain and stopping the precipitating activity is crucial, even if it means forfeiting a lucrative golf tournament.