Understanding the Multiple Meanings of the Term Cervical

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.

Human ligaments, illustration

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.


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).

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 papillomavirus (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.
1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Okunade KS. Human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2019;:1-7. doi:10.1080/01443615.2019.1634030

Additional Reading
  • Cervical Cancer. MedlinePlus.

  • Cervical Stenosis, Myelopathy, and Radiculopathy. North American Spine Society.

  • Cervical Stenosis. Merck Manual Consumer Version.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.