What is Arthritis in the Neck?

Arthritis in the neck, or cervical spondylosis, is one of the most common causes of neck pain. As the body ages the discs and joints in the neck begin to degenerate. Cervical spondylosis is an extremely common condition; more than 85% of individuals over the age of 60 are affected. In nearly all cases, arthritis of the neck responds well to conservative treatment but in more severe cases surgical treatment may be required. As a neck doctor, Ernest Braxon, MD, offers non-surgical and advanced surgical treatments for patients to manage a recovery from cervical spondylosis.

What Causes Arthritis in the Neck?

The causes of arthritis in the neck are varied. In general, cervical spondylosis develops from normal wear and tear over time. The discs in the cervical spine gradually break down, lose fluid, and become stiffer. This problem results in a collapse of the disc space and loss of disc space height.

As the disc space decreases there is an increased pressure on the facet joints; this increased pressure leads to degeneration and the development of arthritis. The facet joints have a smooth, slippery articular cartilage that covers and protects the joints from wearing away. If the articular cartilage wears away completely it can result in bone rubbing on bone. To compensate for the lost cartilage, the body may respond by growing new bone in the facet joints to help support the vertebrae. Over time, this bone overgrowth, known as bone spurs, may narrow the space for the nerves and spinal cord to pass through leading to spinal stenosis.

What Does It Feel Like to Have Cervical Arthritis?

Many people with neck arthritis experience no noticeable symptoms. Patients experiencing symptoms typically report:

  • Neck pain

  • Tenderness

  • Stiffness and limitation in range of motion

Frequent up and down head motion over a period of time or holding the head in a static position can increase the pain. Rest and stretching neck muscles often improves these overuse episodes.

Other symptoms of neck arthritis may include:

  • Shoulder or neck muscle spasms

  • Headaches

  • Weakness or numbness in upper extremities

  • Sensation or audible noise when neck turns

How to Know If I Have Cervical Arthritis?

Dr. Braxton can provide a diagnosis of cervical spondylosis by collecting a medical history and performing a physical exam. Evaluations will include testing:

  • Strength in fingers, hands and arms
  • Sensation and reflex testing
  • Flexibility in the upper body

The physical exam may also include gentle pressure on areas of the shoulder and neck to identify tender locations. Target questions to help diagnosis cervical spondylosis include:

  • Was there ever an injury to the affected area?
  • Is there a history of the pain and when did it begin?
  • Is the pain static or periodic?
  • What activities increase the pain?
  • What, if any, treatments have been used for the pain?

Dr. Braxton may order imaging tests including X-ray, CT scans, MRI scans , or EMG for the diagnosis.

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Does Arthritis in the Neck Go Away on Its Own?

Typically, neck arthritis can be treated with non-surgical treatment options. For cervical spondylosis Dr. Braxton may recommend:

  • Heat/cold and massage therapies
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Soft cervical collar

Injections may also be recommended to alleviate pain and diagnose neck arthritis; the types of injections can include an epidural block, cervical facet joint block, medial branch block and the radiofrequency ablation. Although less invasive than surgery, Dr. Braxton will only recommend injections after a complete evaluation of the patient.

What is Cervical Arthritis Surgery?

Dr. Braxton works closely with patients to devise a treatment plan for cervical spondylosis. In most cases surgery is not recommended until conservative treatment options have been used. Dr. Braxton will recommend surgery in cases where nerves are being pinched by a herniated disc or bone or the patient’s spinal cord is compressed. Patients who demonstrate progressive neurologic symptoms related to muscle weakness, sensation, gait and loss of balance may also be candidates for neck arthritis surgery.

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