The Multiple Meanings of the Term Cervical

Cervical May Not Mean What You Think It Means

Human ligaments, illustration
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Cervical has multiple meanings in the human body. The word cervix is derived from the Latin root word "cervix" which means "neck." For this reason, the word cervical pertains to many areas where tissues narrow to a neck-like passage, and not only in your neck. The term cervical causes confusion because there are multiple cervixes in the body, and they are widely different.

Two Main Areas Where You See the Term Cervical

The two most common uses of the term cervical are used to describe very different areas of the body:

  • Neck: The cervical vertebrae are the bones of the spine that are in the neck. When you see these terms, it relates to the area of the neck: cervical spine, cervical disc, cervical nerves, cervical rib, cervical lymph nodes, cervical myelopathy, cervical radiculopathy, and the cervical collar that is used to stabilize the neck when injured. However, cervical stenosis may or may not pertain to the neck.
  • Cervix: This is at the bottom of the uterus, where the uterus narrows to a neck-like passage in the female reproductive system, opening into the vagina. When you see the term cervical cancer, it is referring to the female cervix. Cervical dysplasia refers to abnormal cells seen on a cervical smear or Pap smear. Other terms that will generally pertain to the cervix include cervical cap, cervical mucus, and one of the two meanings of cervical stenosis.

Cervical Terminology

You may see these terms that include the same root as cervical:

  • Cervicalgia: Neck pain.
  • Cervicobrachial: Pertaining to the area where the neck leads to the arm
  • Cervicoaxillary: The narrowing space found under the arm where the arm attaches to the shoulder joint
  • Cervicies: The neck like structure that connects the head to the body of an organism (not necessarily a human).

    Cervical Conditions and Disorders

    • Cervical cancer: Women are routinely screened for cervical cancer with a Pap smear as part of a gynecological examination. In many cases, the human papilloma virus (HPV) is responsible for this cancer. The HPV vaccine for girls and boys can protect from contracting and spreading this virus and can greatly reduce the incidence of this cancer. 
    • Cervical stenosis: This is a confusing term as it may be applied to either the neck or the cervix. For the cervix, it is a narrowing of the passageway through the cervix that may cause infertility. For the neck, it is a narrowing of the space for the spinal cord and nerve branches in the neck vertebrae.
    • Cervical myelopathy: A loss of function of your legs or arms because of compression of the spinal cord in the neck. This often comes on slowly, with progressive clumsiness or unsteady gait when walking.
    • Cervical radiculopathy: A loss of function to a specific region of your arm due to compression or irritation of a spinal nerve root in your neck. This can be felt as pain traveling from your neck to a specific place on your arm or hand. You may also have numbness or weakness in specific muscles.

    Pronunciation: sir-vick-uhl

    Sources:

    Cervical Cancer. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/cervicalcancer.html.

    Cervical Stenosis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/noncancerous-gynecologic-abnormalities/cervical-stenosis.

    Cervical Stenosis, Myelopathy, and Radiculopathy. North American Spine Society. https://www.spine.org/KnowYourBack/Conditions/DegenerativeConditions/CervicalStenosis,MyelopathyandRadiculopathy.aspx.

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