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In Depth: Neck

The neck is the start of the spinal column and spinal cord. The spinal column contains about two dozen inter-connected, oddly shaped, bony segments, called vertebrae. The neck contains seven of these, known as the cervical vertebrae. They are the smallest and uppermost vertebrae in the body.

The spinal column extends from the base of the skull to the pelvis. It protects and houses the spinal cord — the long bundle of nervous tissue that transmits neural signals to the brain and rest of body. It runs from the back of the head to the small of the back.

The laryngeal prominence, more commonly known as the Adam’s apple, is a noticeable external neck feature. It is more prominent in men than in women. The thyroid cartilage that makes up the body of the larynx, or voice box, creates this prominence, and it develops during puberty. The Adam’s apple is more prominent in men because the cartilage meets at a 90-degree angle; in women, the angle is typically 120-degrees, so the bulge is less noticeable.

Speech is made possible by critical structures within the neck. The larynx houses the vocal cords, or vocal folds. Sound is generated when these folds come together to produce vibrations. Its movement also manipulates pitch and volume.

The larynx is located where the pharynx, the back of the mouth and nasal cavity, divides into the trachea (the tube that carries air to the lungs) and the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach). That branch occurs near the base of the neck near the collarbones. 

Some health problems that can affect the neck include:

  • Neck spasm
  • Whiplash
  • Herniated disc
  • Muscle sprain
  • Laryngitis
  • Airway obstruction
  • Vocal cord polyps
  • Throat cancer
  • Mumps
  • Mononucleosis

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