When wear and tear affects the seven bones of the upper spine, it’s referred to as cervical spondylosis, or neck arthritis. Mainly related to age, other factors can also contribute to the condition. Neck arthritis may be present in anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of people 60 and older, and pain can range from non-existent to severe.
What Causes Neck Arthritis?
Neck arthritis usually develops slowly over time, with the degeneration often remaining undetected until pain becomes problematic or starts to have an impact on quality of daily life. Cervical spinal stenosis, or the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck, may accelerate the wear of neck joints and discs. Contributing factors to neck arthritis may also include:
- Bone spurs
- Dehydrated spinal discs
- Herniated discs
- Injury to the neck
Neck Arthritis Symptoms
When symptoms are experienced, they are often gradual and progressive in nature. Certain movements tend to trigger bouts of pain due to neck arthritis, depending on the location of the worn parts of the cervical spine. Symptoms may also include:
- Increased pain when sitting or standing
- Pain felt when sneezing or coughing
- Tilting the neck forward to minimize pain
- Neck stiffness that’s becoming worse
- Muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder area
Diagnosing and Treating Neck Arthritis
Diagnosis often starts with a thorough exam, image testing to determine the location of the degeneration, and an electromyogram (EMG) to check nerve functioning. Physical therapy is frequently recommended to strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. Some patients may be treated with:
- Neck traction to relieve pressure on discs and nerve roots
- Anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants
- Steroid injections to minimize tissue inflammation
- Anti-epileptic drugs to treat nerve damage
- Temporary use of a neck collar or brace
- Application of heat or ice
Neck surgery isn’t often recommended for neck arthritis unless the pain is related to a bone spur or a herniated cervical disc that’s pinching or compressing a nerve or if the spine is somehow compromised. For most people, cervical spondylosis can be successfully managed with the use of over-the-counter or prescription medication and preventative measures such as strengthening neck muscles.
If you have chronic pain that isn’t responding to conservative treatments, consider speaking with a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles. To schedule an in-person consultation, call The Spine Institute today at (310) 828-7757 today.