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What Is Military Neck?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 11, 2021

Military neck is an informal name for cervical spine deformities that cause unusual curves in your spine. It is not connected with the military.

What Is Military Neck?

Military neck is an unusual curve in your cervical spine (this is your neck) called cervical kyphosis.

Normally your neck has a slight backward C bend. If you have military neck, also called cervical kyphosis, your neck has lost some of its normal curvature. This makes your neck abnormally straight, which can cause your head to tilt forward.

Causes of Military Neck

Both children and adults can get cervical kyphosis. There are several causes for this condition.

Degenerative disc disease. In degenerative disc disease, the discs in your spine wear down over time. This causes them to collapse and get thinner. As that happens, your head tilts forward and your neck curves forward or straightens. 

Your head is heavy, and if it is imbalanced on your spine, it can push your neck forward until you get kyphosis. This can happen slowly over time.

Congenital kyphosis. Some babies are born with disabilities or have unusual spine development. The spine might not be fully formed, or the bones might grow in a triangle shape. When this happens, the bones aren’t stacked correctly, which can cause the neck to curve forward. 

Cervical spondylosis. This condition is a type of arthritis of the neck. As your discs wear down with age, your bones begin to rub against each other and break down. This causes the spine to collapse, your head to tilt forward, and your neck to curve. Degenerating discs can cause arthritis. 

Trauma. Serious injury to the neck or spine can cause a compression fracture in your vertebrae or dislocation. This leads to spine deformity and kyphosis. Serious injuries can include:

  • Accidents in cars or other vehicles
  • Falling from heights
  • Falling off horses
  • Hard impact during sports

Iatrogenic kyphosis. This type of neck problem is caused by medical procedures. Laminectomy surgery is the most common cause. This is a surgery in which part of the vertebrae bone is removed to ease pressure on your spinal cord.

Infection. Spine infections like tuberculosis or osteomyelitis can cause spine problems. These are rare, but can lead to a spinal curve deformity. 

Military Neck Symptoms

The most common symptom of military neck is pain. When the bones wear down and the spine curves, it places more pressure on the spine, which can cause significant pain. 

Spine deformities or unusual curvatures can cause lots of other problems, especially as the curve worsens. These can include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Back pain
  • Spinal cord compression
  • Head bending forward
  • Trouble lifting your head or moving your neck
  • Vision problems
  • Muscle spasms in your back and neck
  • Headaches

In severe cases, your chin might eventually rest on your chest. Your neck also might put pressure on your spinal cord roots, leading to other problems, including:

  • Weakness in your arms and legs
  • Loss of control over bowels and bladder
  • Trouble gripping
  • Less grip strength
  • Paralysis (in extreme cases)

Military Neck Treatment

The treatment for military neck involves managing your symptoms and correcting the spine.

Surgery. Surgery is the main treatment, but it is usually only performed if your neck is getting worse. Your doctor might add a metal plate and rods to give your neck stability or might fuse your bones together. 

Cervical traction. Your doctor might use cervical traction, which is a method of applying counterforce to your neck. Cervical traction with a halo ring uses gravity to help move the spine and relieve pressure on the cord. This is especially helpful for children who have severe cervical kyphosis and is usually done before surgery.

There are several conservative treatments that can help manage some of your symptoms and may be better for less severe kyphosis.

Physical therapy. A physical therapist can give you exercises to stretch, extend, and rotate your neck. This might also help ease spasms and teach you how to avoid other injuries. ‌

If you have surgery, you might have physical therapy before and after to help gain movement and strength. 

Neck brace. Wearing a neck brace can help with neck stability. This keeps your neck in the right position and can help relieve pain.

Other treatments. Relieving pain is a big part of treatment. Your doctor might recommend:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Steroid injections
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Pain medication
  • Chiropractic care 

You can also use ice and heat packs to help with pain and muscle soreness. Good posture can also help relieve stress on your neck.‌

Cervical kyphosis can lead to lots of other problems. If you have pain in your neck or changes in posture, make sure to talk to your doctor. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Asian Spine Journal: “Cervical Kyphosis.”

Boston Children’s Hospital: “Halo-Gravity Traction.”

European Spine Journal: “Surgical treatment of cervical kyphosis.”

MedScape: “Cervical Spine Deformity.”

University of Maryland Medical Center: “Cervical Kyphosis.”

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