What is Neck Arthritis?
Also referred to as cervical osteoarthritis, neck arthritis is chronic degeneration of the vertebrae of the cervical region of the spine and discs between the vertebrae.
Who Gets It?
The condition typically affects men and women over 40. This tends to progress and worsens as one age. Men have a tendency to develop the condition younger than women.
Compression of Nerves – All kinds of changes caused due to degeneration of the cervical spine region may compress one or more nerve roots. This compression of nerves may result in pain in the neck, numbness, weakness, and tingling in the arm.
Neck Injury – In some cases, a neck injury in the past may result in neck osteoarthritis in the long run.
Aging – This is the major risk factor for neck osteoarthritis. Around 70% of women and 85% of men have got neck osteoarthritis by age 60.
Signs and Symptoms
Neck osteoarthritis may result in the following symptoms:
- Sharp pain that radiates to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades.
- Pain and stiffness that gets worse in the morning, and then improve after getting up and moving around.
- Pain that gets worse towards the end of the day.
The patient gets relieved from neck pain with some rest.
- Some of the neck arthritis cases may even cause headaches (mainly in the back of the head).
- Cervical bone spurs (osteophytes) are known to be one of the common markers of cervical osteoarthritis. The osteophytes may impinge on a nerve leading to symptoms radiating into the arms.
- When osteoarthritis of neck impinge on the spinal cord, the condition may result in spinal cord dysfunction (cervical myelopathy).
Diagnosis of Neck Osteoarthritis
Diagnosis of neck osteoarthritis is mainly based on the following:
- Medical history of the patient
- Physical examination (the doctor will observe for pain, reflexes, range of motion in the neck, nerve, and function of muscle in arms and legs)
- Imaging studies
Diagnostic tests such as neck x-ray, EMG, CT scan, MRI, myelogram etc.
Maximum impact is placed on joints. This leads to signs of wear and tear. Aging causes stiffness and soreness of the knees, wrists, hands, and feet. Arthritis may also affect the vertebrae of the neck. The sore neck should not be avoided under any circumstances. You must see a general practitioner or a neck pain specialist such as an osteopathic doctor, a rheumatologist, or an orthopedist. Most doctors advise their patients to undergo various therapies to help relieve the pain including physical therapy, Pilates, yoga, or postural changes. In many cases, patients are recommended pain-relieving medication or steroid injections:
Cervical osteoarthritis treatments are mainly nonsurgical. These may include one or a combination of the following:
Relax – The doctor will advise you to take ample rest when the pain is severe.
Medications – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), naproxen (e.g. Aleve), or COX-2 inhibitors (e.g. Celebrex) are prescribed to help relieve the pain resulting from inflammation that mainly accompanies arthritis.
Adjustments – Chiropractic adjustments and/or traction will help control chronic symptoms or provide ample relief for severe episodes of pain resulting from osteoarthritis.
Cortisone Injections – These are provided to reduce inflammation that contributes to the pain. The doctor will inject steroids directly into the affected area.
Muscle Relaxants – These are important to help reduce painful muscle spasms in the neck and surrounding muscles.
Heat or Ice – It helps alleviate localized pain. Some individuals prefer a cold pack or heat. This is especially preferred to post an activity that leads to pain in order to minimize the amount of swelling or inflammation. Some patients prefer heat, such as a heat wrap, heating pad, moist heat, warm bath etc. for enjoying relief from pain.
Activity Modification – This is advised for reducing positions and activities that lead to discomfort or pain. Doctors may suggest patients change their sleep patterns to reduce pain and discomfort when they wake up in the morning.
Physical Therapy and Neck Exercises – In most cases, patients are advised to exercise and participate in physical activities for strengthening the neck and help maintain range of motion. These also prevent neck stiffness. Stretching and strengthening exercises help keep your neck limber. It also reduces arthritis pain. Some of the commonly recommended exercises are stated below:
Step 1: Sit in a chair with your shoulders back. Keep your head straight.
Step 2: Pull your chin straight in. This should seem like you are making a double chin.
Step 3: Hold on to this position for around 5 to 10 seconds. You should feel the stretch in your neck.
Step 4: Now slowly return to your original position.
Repeat this exercise five times.
Note: You will feel the stretch in the back of your neck.
- Shoulder Rolls
Shoulders are as important as your neck when dealing with cervical osteoarthritis. When you exercise your shoulders, it strengthens muscles supporting your neck. The exercise is easy to practice and keeps your shoulder and neck joints flexible.
Step 1: Sit in a chair or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Step 2: Roll your shoulders up, back, and down in one smooth motion.
Repeat this movement at least five times.
Step 3: Reverse the above-mentioned motion where you roll your shoulders up, forward, and down at least five times.
- Neck Drop and Raise
The stretch is very helpful for both front and back of your neck. It increases flexibility and movement.
Step 1: Stand up straight. You may even sit in a chair. Drop your head forward slowly until your chin touches your chest.
Step 2: Hold this position for around 5 to 10 seconds. Return to your starting position.
Step 3: Lean your head slightly back. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
Repeat the stretch in each direction five times.
- Neck Rotation
This is a good exercise for the sides of the neck. Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: Sit in a chair or stand up. Maintain a good posture. Turn your head slowly to the right. Keep your chin straight.
Step 2: Hold on to this position for around 5 to 10 seconds. Now return to the center.
Step 3: Slowly turn your head towards the left. Now hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Then return to center.
This exercise should be repeated five times on each side.
- Head Tilt
This is an opposing motion and works on the sides of your neck.
Step 1: Stand up straight or sit in a chair.
Step 2: Slowly tilt your head toward your right shoulder. Make sure you keep left shoulder down.
Step 3: Hold on to this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Return your head to center.
Repeat on the left side by tilting your head toward your left shoulder. Now hold your right shoulder down.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. You need to repeat the whole sequence at least five times.
Surgery – Although cervical osteoarthritis is a chronic condition, the symptoms are rarely progressive. These rarely require surgery. Severe symptoms that impede the ability of patients to function may require surgery such as a cervical spinal fusion and/or cervical laminectomy.