Overall, the prevalence of arthritis in the United States has increased, with arthritis being the leading cause of disability in the United States. Currently, more than 52.5 million people are diagnosed with arthritis or another rheumatic disease. To understand neck arthritis and how to treat it, continue reading this guide from Comprehensive Spine Care in New Jersey.
What You Need to Know About Neck Arthritis
When neck arthritis strikes, it causes painful joint inflammation and stiffness. There are different types of arthritis in the neck, such as:
- Cervical osteoarthritis involves the destruction of the articular cartilage in the neck, which occurs with wear and tear over time or accelerated by injury.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can lead to joint damage. When RA occurs in the cervical spine, it is most likely to occur in the upper neck or base of the skull.
- Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes enthesitis, an inflammation of the attachment of ligaments and tendons to bone. While ankylosing spondylitis usually starts in the hips and lower back, in severe cases it can eventually spread to the neck.
How Neck Arthritis Can Develop
Cervical spondylosis is an umbrella term for age-related wear and tear that affects the discs in the neck. As the discs dry out and shrink, signs of osteoarthritis can develop, including bone spurs along the edges of the bones. Cervical spondylosis is common and can worsen with age. More than 85% of people over the age of 60 suffer from cervical spondylosis.
Paired facet joints run along the back of the cervical spine. Each of your small joints is lined with cartilage. This cartilage is surrounded by capsules filled with synovial fluid, which lubricates your facet joints and allows smooth movement between adjacent vertebrae. Cervical facet osteoarthritis occurs when your cartilage begins to degenerate or break down. As your cartilage thins and wears away, bone-to-bone friction occurs in your facet joints. This friction can lead to inflammation and bone growths called bone spurs (osteophytes).
Symptoms of Neck Arthritis
People with cervical osteoarthritis may experience neck pain that begins slowly and worsens over time. This pain may be dull, sharp, or burning, and can even extend to the head or upper back. In some cases, a bone spur may hit a nerve root in the neck, causing pain at the base of the arm that feels like an electric shock. When nerve root inflammation leads to numbness or weakness in the arm or hand, it is referred to as cervical radiculopathy.
Treatments For Neck Arthritis
Cervical osteoarthritis usually heals successfully without surgery. Common treatments include:
- Rest or activity modification: Resting the neck during painful episodes can reduce pain. Also, you may need to change some activities. For example, regular swimmers can adapt by changing their swimming style.
- A physical therapist: A physical therapist can create a custom neck exercise program for you. With a stronger and more flexible neck, you may experience improved function and have less pain.
- Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. Be sure to consult your doctor.
- Heat and/or cold therapy: Ice can help reduce inflammation and numb pain. Others may prefer to use heat therapy, which increases blood flow and relaxes muscles. When using heat or cold therapy, applications should last about 15 minutes with about 2 hours in between. Leave a layer between the skin and the heat/cold source.
- Surgery: Cervical fusion surgery may be a treatment option for patients with severe cervical osteoarthritis who do not respond to nonsurgical treatment. There are other treatment options, including therapeutic injections.
If you are suffering from neck arthritis and considering services in New Jersey, Comprehensive Spine Care has two decades of experience, including in fusion surgery. For a professional opinion on whether or not you are a candidate for neck arthritis treatments, call 201-634-1811 to make a consultation at one of our locations in Westwood, Clifton, Bridgewater, and East Brunswick.