What To Do About Arthritis In The Neck
May 6, 2022
The joints, discs, and bones in the neck can undergo degenerative changes related to age-related wear and tear. If the discs shrink, the vertebrae lose cushioning, and the bones begin to rub together and develop bone spurs, which are lumps that form off a bone. The space where the nerve roots exit the canal can narrow, and they can become pinched, causing more serious symptoms. This painful condition is called cervical spondylosis or neck arthritis.
The symptoms of arthritis of the neck include pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving the head. In the earliest stages, symptoms of arthritis in the neck are mild, but they can worsen without treatment. The focus of treatments for arthritis in the neck is to relieve symptoms and avoid putting additional strain on the neck.
Neck Arthritis Due To Poor Posture Injury And Related Stress On Joints
Over a period of time, poor neck posture may cause joints to deteriorate, resulting in neck arthritis called osteoarthritis. The sensitive nerves can become pinched. Soft tissues like muscles and ligaments stiffen and become hard and inelastic as they try to assume a more supportive function. Because the joints become unstable the ligaments which attach bones harden and try to act like bones. The muscles used to move bones lose elasticity as they try to function like ligaments. This process will continue and may result in severe pain and even disability.
Spinal Arthritis Causes And Risk Factors
The causes of arthritis in the back or neck vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Besides normal wear and tear and autoimmune triggers, in many cases the exact cause remains unknown. Genetic components have been identified in connection with some forms of spinal arthritis, meaning that it may be hereditary.
Other spinal arthritis risk factors include:
Presence of certain conditions such as diabetes, gout, psoriasis, tuberculosis, irritable bowel syndrome and Lyme disease
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Exercise For Arthritis In The Neck
If youre experiencing neck pain due to arthritis, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Physical therapy for neck arthritis entails doing specific exercises to help strengthen and stretch weak or strained muscles. Physical therapy can improve range of motion. Sessions and programs vary in length and frequency and are tailored to your condition.
The foundation of what were trying to do in physical therapy for the neck is often to help improve posture and the way people move, says Dr. Milani. Exercises in physical therapy tend to be focused on strengthening muscles of the back and neck, which puts less strain on structures of the cervical spine.
Youll do exercises during physical therapy and get instructions on ones to do at home.
Regular Physical Activity at Home
You may feel like you dont want to move when your neck hurts. But being inactive may increase stiffness, which can cause you to lose even more mobility. Aches and pains tend to respond better to continued movement than rest, says Dr. Milani. Exercise is often the foundation of treatment.
Exercises that involve stretching, strengthening, and improving range of motion can help reduce pain and keep your neck limber. You want to move gently and smoothly when doing neck exercises, not jerk your neck or make sudden movements. You may feel discomfort at first. Stop if any exercise increases your neck pain.
What Are The Symptoms Of Arthritis Of The Neck
The main symptoms of cervical spondylosis are pain and stiffness in the neck which can be mild or severe. These symptoms are usually made worse by holding the neck in one position for a long time, for example, when reading a book. The pain goes away when you lie down or rest.
Other symptoms of arthritis of the neck include:
- Losing balance
- Feeling a popping or grinding noise when you swivel your neck
- Muscle spasms occurring in the neck and shoulders
- Weakness and numbness of the hands, arms, and fingers because the space that the nerve roots and spinal cord pass through narrows
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How In Motion Oc Can Help With Neck Arthritis
In Motion O.C. understands just how frustrating it can be to live with symptoms of neck arthritis and we dont want you to have to deal with the symptoms any longer.
Weve helped dozens of people overcome their symptoms of neck arthritis and wed love to help you, too.
As the number one physical therapist in the country on Yelp! and Google, we are committed to providing the best possible care to each and every person that walks through our doors.
*This information about physical therapy for neck arthritis was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please dont hesitate to contact us here.
Inflammatory Arthritis Versus Osteoarthritis
Arthritis of the spine falls into two basic categories:
- chronic autoimmune disorders such as , a condition which often begins at a young age and is characterized by low back and/or neck pain, morning stiffness, and limited motion in the back, which is improved by exercise and unrelieved by periods of rest.
- degenerative changes in the joints that occur as a person ages. Osteoarthritis of the spine causes joints along the spine to deteriorate and may result in the formation of bone spurs, cysts, and a narrowing of the disc space.
Osteoarthritis of the back or neck is significantly more common than is inflammatory arthritis. Below is a narrated video animation about osteoarthritis of the spine.
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What Is Neck Pain
Neck pain is pain that is felt in the upper part of the spine. It is sign that the joints, muscles or other parts of the neck are injured, strained or not working properly. Neck pain is very common, with about one in 10 people having it at any given time, but it is not usually a sign of arthritis or any other serious medical problem.
Neck pain is common and is rarely due to serious disease. Staying active will help you get better faster and prevent more problems.
Arthritis And Chest Pain Symptoms
Arthritis chest pain has usually associated some exacerbation, such as minor trauma or upper respiratory infection, or it may be related to inflammation from the underlying arthritis condition.
The pain is either dull or sharp but usually located towards the front of the chest wall. Sometimes, pain radiates to the back or abdomen. Pain can also be felt when coughing, sneezing and taking deep breathes.
Tenderness and pain are worsened when you press on the rib joints or the breastbone. Tenderness in the breastbone or rib cage is a usually a telltale sign of costochondritis and makes it easier to diagnose this condition.
Arthritis can make you feel fatigued for several reasons, and it can be difficult to pinpoint which aspect of having arthritis is causing your fatigue.
You will need immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- High fever, sweating, or chills
- Breathing problems
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Using Heat And Ice Packs
Applying a heat pack to your neck can help to ease pain. You can use a microwavable wheat bag, a hot-water bottle or a reusable heat pad which you can buy from chemists and sports shops. An ice pack, or even a bag of frozen peas, can also be helpful.
Make sure you wrap heat or ice packs in a towel and dont put them directly onto your neck to avoid burning or irritating your skin. You might want to consider applying a heat pack to your neck before and after exercise to help soothe the muscles.
What Is Neck Arthritis
More than 85% of people over the age of 60 experience neck arthritis also referred to as cervical spondylosis.
Cervical spondylosis affects the spinal disks in your neck.
Over time, the cartilage in your neck joints begins to break down.
Just as in other forms of arthritis throughout the rest of the body, neck arthritis is the age-related wear-and-tear of bones, joints, and discs in your neck.
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Low Back Pain Caused By Osteoarthritis
The most common symptom of spinal osteoarthritis is pain in the lumbar spine . This pain may also radiate down to the pelvis, buttocks, groin or thighs. It is usually treated through a combination of:
- and that strengthens a person’s core
- , acetaminophen, and/or adjuvant pain medication
When these treatments are not enough to alleviate pain and stiffness, a patient may require procedural pain management, such as or blocking of the medial nerve through radiofrequency neurotomy, where heat generated by radio waves disrupts the nerves ability to transmit pain signals.
How Disk Degeneration Causes Arthritis
When age catches up with you, the disks of the spine get shorter and as a result, they start to bulge out. Moreover, they lose water, dry up, and get weaker. This causes the collapse of disk spaces and height.
When disk spaces collapse, they exert pressure on the joints and they also begin to degenerate. In the process, the articular cartilage also wears away. The cartilage is a flexible connective tissue in the joints that absorbs the shock and pressure of your movements to protect the joints.
When the cartilage is all gone, the bones start rubbing together and this causes inflammation in the joints arthritis.
How Neck Pain Is Treated
A doctor will perform a physical exam and take your complete medical history. Be prepared to tell them about the specifics of your symptoms. Also let the doctor know about all prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements youve been taking.
Even if it doesnt seem related, let your doctor know about any recent injuries or accidents youve had, too.
Treatment for neck pain depends on its cause. In addition to a thorough history and physical exam by your doctor, you may also need one or more of the following imaging studies and tests to help your doctor determine the cause of your neck pain and make a diagnosis:
- blood test
Neck Pain And Cervical Spondylosis
Neck or cervical spine pain becomes more common as you age, often because of age-related degeneration of the neck bones. This wear and tear is what causes cervical spondylosis, also known as osteoarthritis of the neck or cervical osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis may be accompanied by the growth of bony spurs and problems with the ligaments and disks in the neck.
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How Meds Can Help
Aggressively treating active RA inflammation is the best thing you can do to protect your neck and other joints. Treatment can help prevent cervical vertebra involvement in the future, says Dr. Bhatt, which is why your doctor writes a prescription for a DMARD medication when you get an RA diagnosis. These medications suppress RA inflammation, protecting your body from damage. Medications called biologics have made it possible for many more people to achieve remission or low-disease activity. Even if you already have experienced some damage to joints, including the one in your neck, continuing treatment may prevent problems in the future.
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Spinal Arthritis May Contribute To Other Issues In The Spine
Spinal arthritis may cause bone spurs overgrowths on the edges of the bones. In the spine, bone spurs particularly affect facet joints, making them grow larger. This condition is called facet joint hypertrophy. Although bone spurs on their own are not harmful, they may narrow the passages for the spinal cord and the nerves exiting the spine. This may lead to two painful conditions:
Spinal stenosis compression of the spinal cord inside the spinal canal
Radiculopathy pinching of the peripheral nerves as they exit the spine
Ankylosing spondylitis may also cause additional problems such as:
Stress fractures in places where new bone has formed
A spinal deformity called kyphosis
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When You Should Consider Surgery
For most people with arthritis of the neck, time and nonsurgical measures will relieve the discomfort. But if you have a herniated disk that causes spinal nerve compression with symptoms like pain, weakness and numbness that dont go away, it may be time to consider surgery.
One way to surgically correct a pinched nerve is with a diskectomy. The surgeon removes part of the damaged disk to relieve pressure on the nerve. Then the vertebrae may be fused or welded together to stabilize the spine. Another surgical option is a posterior foraminotomy, which widens the opening of the spine where the nerve passes through, and removes any bone spurs that are pressing on the nerve.
Compression of the spinal cord can be treated several ways surgically. They all create more space for the nerves. Anterior decompression and fusion surgery is similar to the treatment of a pinched nerve. Cord compression can also be addressed by removing a part of the vertebra called the lamina or a procedure called a laminoplasty.
The vast majority of people with a pinched nerve will improve following surgery. People with spinal cord compression also improve, but the extent of improvement depends on the severity of neurological dysfunction before the surgery, says Dr. Mroz.
This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Arthritis Advisor.
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The purpose of the Southern Cross Medical Library is to provide information of a general nature to help you better understand certain medical conditions. Always seek specific medical advice for treatment appropriate to you. This information is not intended to relate specifically to insurance or healthcare services provided by Southern Cross. For more articles go to the Medical Library index page.
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How Is Cervical Spondylosis Diagnosed
The doctor will generally begin by asking you about symptoms and taking a medical history. This will be followed by a physical exam of the body, with a focus on the neck, back, and shoulders. The doctor is also likely to test reflexes and the strength of hands and arms, check for loss of sensation, and watch you walk.
Other tests that might be done include imaging exams such as X-rays, computed tomography , and magnetic resonance imaging . MRI scans use large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to produce the best images of the body. You might also be referred to a neurologist.
Treatment Options For Cervical Osteoarthritis
Cervical osteoarthritis can usually be successfully managed without surgery. Common treatments include:
- Rest or activity modification. Going easy on the neck during a painful flare-up may ease pain. Also, you may need to modify some activities, such as using a different swim stroke if you enjoy swimming.
- Physical therapy. A physiatrist, physical therapist, or other medical professional can customize a neck exercise program for you. A stronger and more flexible neck has improved function, which may reduce pain.
- Over-the-counter medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help relieve inflammation from osteoarthritis. A few examples include ibuprofen and naproxen . Remember to carefully read the instructions before using any medication to reduce the risk for serious complications.
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Osteoarthritis Of The Spine
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of spinal arthritis. It usually affects the lower back and develops through wear and tear. As the cartilage between the joints slowly breaks down, it leads to inflammation and pain. Because the pain is from mechanical damage, it is typically more noticeable when you bend or twist your back. Past back injuries may also contribute to the development of degenerative arthritis of the spine.
Osteoarthritis of the spine usually affects the facet joints between the vertebrae. It is also known as facet joint arthritis, facet joint syndrome and facet disease. In some cases, degeneration of the spinal discs may contribute to facet joint arthritis. As discs between the vertebrae become thinner, more pressure is transferred to the facet joints. This leads to more friction and more damage to the cartilage.
When these degenerative changes occur in the neck, this condition is called cervical spondylosis. Arthritis in the neck doesnt always cause pain, and many people have no noticeable symptoms.
Surgery For Spinal Arthritis
Surgery may be recommended for spinal arthritis if other treatments dont sufficiently relieve pain. The goals of the surgery may include:
Stabilizing the spine by fusing several segments together in a procedure called spinal fusion
These surgeries can be performed as open procedures or with a minimally invasive approach. There are pros and cons to each method. The surgeon will review and discuss the options before the operation.
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What Causes Arthritis Of The Neck
Everyones joints and disks suffer from wear and tear as they age. Its the natural course of nature. Cervical spondylosis is, therefore, as a result of the spine degenerating due to age. In fact, half of the people in middle age and above have worn disks, only that they dont experience pain as a result.
Should I See A Doctor
You should talk to your doctor or other health professional if your pain is bothering you. They will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. In most cases tests such as x-rays and blood tests are not helpful in finding out the cause of neck pain unless there has been an obvious injury or strain. They may check for any serious medical problems that could be causing your pain, but these are rare. You should see your doctor if:
- you have neck pain following a fall or accident, such as a car accident
- your pain does not settle down or starts getting worse
- you also have symptoms such as headache and vomiting, dizziness, losing weight, tingling or numbness in the arms or legs, sweats and chills or problems swallowing.
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