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Text Neck and Cervical Spine: Unusual Symptoms of Nerve Disorders

Over the past couple of decades, the widespread use of computers and smartphones has made cervical spine disorders increasingly common among not only adults but also our children and teenagers. 

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The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae and is a key structure connecting the head and the trunk. Our cervical spinal cord is protected within the central canal of these vertebrae, transmitting neural signals from the brain through the brainstem to peripheral nerves throughout the body. Additionally, the cervical spine emits numerous nerve roots, which control sensory and motor functions of the head, neck, shoulders, and arms.

Causes of Cervical Disorders and Disc Herniation

The causes of cervical and lumbar disorders are similar—overuse, degeneration, and injury. In recent years, cervical strain has become a common issue, closely linked to the prolonged use of electronic devices by all age groups. Poor sitting and sleeping postures and lack of exercise can also accelerate cervical wear, degeneration, and bone spur growth. The intervertebral discs between the cervical vertebrae function like car tires, cushioning and absorbing shock. However, as text neck persists and natural aging progresses, these discs dehydrate, losing their cushioning and shock-absorbing capabilities. When slightly injured, the fibrous ring around the disc can tear, much like a tire burst, causing the gel-like substance in the disc center to protrude and compress the spinal cord or nerves. As discs lose their cushioning effect with age, this wear and tear on the cervical vertebrae can lead to pathological changes like bone spurs, which also compress the spinal cord or nerves.

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Symptoms of Cervical Nerve Compression

The average human head weighs about 4.5 to 5 kilograms (10 to 11 pounds), and the primary task of the cervical spine is to support this weight. Whether we are walking upright, standing, sitting, or lying down, and regardless of the head being tilted, bent forward or backward, or turned, the cervical spine bears the weight of the head. If our head and neck maintain poor postures over time, the cervical spine will suffer accelerated wear and degenerative changes, leading to symptoms of structural damage. Headaches are a common initial symptom when the cervical spine can no longer bear the weight of the head.


In summary, the cervical spinal cord acts as a critical bridge for neural signals between the brain and peripheral nerves throughout the body. Any cervical disorder can affect the function of the spinal cord in transmitting these signals, leading to symptoms related to the nervous system. Severe cervical disorders, such as disc herniation, bone spurs, or tumors, can compress nerve roots or the central spinal cord, causing traditional symptoms of motor and sensory nerve impairment, including paralysis, pain, weakness, unsteady walking, and muscle atrophy. Additionally, patients may also experience symptoms of autonomic, sympathetic, or vagus nerve dysfunction, such as high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and indigestion.

Fig 1. 20-year-old healthy girl, normal cervical curvature.

Fig 2. 20-year-old girl often looking down at devices, mild symptoms of loss of natural cervical curvature.

Fig 3. 35-year-old male, long-term neck bending at work, cervical disc herniation and nerve compression, awaiting surgical treatment.

Fig 4. 52-year-old male, long-term neck pain and numb hands, recent weakness in the lower limbs and gait disorder, severe disc herniation causing spinal compression and edema, has undergone a seven-hour decompressive surgery with artificial disc implantation, requiring long-term rehabilitation.


Severe cervical disorders can result in symptoms like limb numbness, pain, weakness, unsteady walking, and muscle atrophy, affecting sensory and motor nerve functions.

Symptoms of Sympathetic and Vagus Nerve Dysfunction

Traditionally, cervical disorders were not associated with emotional issues. However, clinical experience over the past decade or two has shown that some patients with cervical disorders also exhibit dizziness, tinnitus, high blood pressure, and a range of emotional symptoms such as anxiety, fear, irritability, mood swings, rapid heartbeat, and palpitations.


Detailed clinical examinations have revealed that these emotional signs may be due to cervical disorders compressing the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve from our brainstem, is a mixed nerve containing sensory, motor, and parasympathetic signals and is the longest and most widely distributed of the cranial nerves. Parasympathetic signals in the vagus nerve regulate sensations, movements, and glandular functions of the respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular systems.


Thus, damage to the vagus nerve can cause symptoms of dysfunction in circulation, breathing, and digestion. When cervical disorders compress the vagus nerve, they can trigger a range of emotional symptoms. The severity of symptoms varies among individuals, with some experiencing intermittent episodes and others more persistent symptoms, often more common in female patients. Many times, these are misdiagnosed as purely emotional disorders. While emotional medications may temporarily or partially relieve symptoms, they do not address the underlying issue.


Only through detailed clinical examinations to identify and properly treat the cervical causes can these emotional symptoms be resolved.

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