Affecting one of the most mobile parts of the body, neck arthritis is a condition that can have a big impact on quality of life because it can cause painful neck movements, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Before exploring this topic, let’s briefly discuss the three main types of arthritis that affect the neck.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that’s more likely to damage joints in the upper neck or around the base of the skull. Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes ligaments and tendons to attach to bones (a condition called enthesitis), and it sometimes works its way up to the neck area after starting in the hips or lumbar (lower) spine. Resulting from the breakdown of cartilage, cervical osteoarthritis (OA) is often related to age-related wear and tear or injuries. Because it’s also the most common form of neck arthritis, we’ll focus on cervical OA as we discuss what you should know about neck arthritis.
The most common cause of cervical osteoarthritis is the gradual breakdown of protective spinal joint tissue called cartilage. With help from a special type of natural lubricating fluid (synovial fluid), cartilage allows your neck’s joints to move smoothly. As cartilage breaks down, there’s an increase in bone-on-bone friction, which can lead to the development of bone growths (osteophytes) that irritate nearby nerves.
Pain related to cervical osteoarthritis tends to be more noticeable when first waking up, although your discomfort could go away during your normal day before returning later or being aggravated by certain neck movements. Additional symptoms commonly associated with cervical OA include:
• Dull or sharp neck pain
• Discomfort that extends to the head or upper back
• Tenderness in the affected area of the neck
• Neck stiffness
• Reduced range of motion
If a bone spur develops because of neck arthritis, you may experience weakness or numbness in your arms or hands (cervical radiculopathy). Tingling or shock-like sensations may be felt as well.
Symptoms of cervical osteoarthritis are sometimes vague, so diagnosis usually involves image tests such as MRI scans to rule out structural problems and confirm tissues and joints have been affected. Treatment typically begins with conservative or nonsurgical options, which may include:
Some patients also see improvements with therapeutic injections or chiropractic adjustments. If nonsurgical efforts fail, patients may require ACDF surgery. Los Angeles patients who have this procedure undergo fusion surgery to join together certain bones in the neck to prevent excessive movement and increase stability.
Neck arthritis isn’t always preventable, since age is a common risk factor. However, you can make an effort to keep the joints and tissues in your neck as healthy as possible by maintaining correct head-neck-shoulder alignment throughout your day, eating fatty fish, leafy green vegetables, and other foods that naturally fight inflammation, and reporting any new or lingering neck pain to your doctor or Los Angeles spine surgeon.
If you’re having severe or persistent pain in your neck, don’t hesitate to consult a spinal health specialist. The industry-leading experts at The Spine Institute have decades of experience with all sources of neck and back pain, and we employ the most innovative methods of diagnosis and treatment to alleviate pain and promote long-term spinal health. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.