Background: There is some evidence to suggest that dysfunction in the sensory system of the neck may result in a gamut of signs and symptoms. However, a sound understanding of the somatosensory system in the neck and its normal influence on the central nervous system is essential before signs and symptoms can be identified as representations of ill health or disease arising from the neck.
Objective: To briefly review current knowledge of the somatosensory system of the neck and to consider its connections and influence on the central nervous system.
Data sources: Information was obtained from peer-reviewed scientific journals and proceedings of scientific meetings that have investigated or considered anatomical and physiological aspects of the sensory system in the necks of human and nonhuman vertebrates.
Conclusion: Studies involving human and nonhuman vertebrates have provided considerable information about the anatomy of the sensory receptors located in the neck and about where information from these receptors is relayed in the spinal cord and brain. Physiological experiments involving electrical and natural stimulation of the head and neck regions have identified a role for some of these receptors in neck-evoked reflexes. It is clear that in addition to signaling nociception, the somatosensory system of the neck may influence the motor control of the neck, eyes, limbs, respiratory muscles and possibly the activity of some preganglionic sympathetic nerves.