The medical term for cervical arthritis is “cervical spondylosis”. Some call it “cervical osteoarthritis”. Whatever the name you call it, it usually involves bony changes such as loss of bone or knobs that grow on the bone. The discs that cushion the bone can become dried out or injured in some way so that they rupture and compress the nerves that go to the arms. Producing serious pain or numbness in the arms.
The neck has joints just like other parts of the body. The joint move when you move your neck. When one or more of the bones has knobs or spurs growing on it, the joint doesn’t work very well and there is pain. There is also the chance that these knobs or “osteophytes” will interfere with the exit of the cervical nerves. This can cause pain, numbness or tingling in the nerve going to the arm. There are about seven cervical nerves for each half of the body—numerous potential sites that can become inflamed due to cervical arthritis.
Home Treatment for Osteoarthritis
It is important to care for your cervical joints at home. You need to protect the discs that protect the vertebral joints from rubbing into one another and causing pain. There are a few things you can do at home to reduce your risk of serious osteoarthritis.
- Lose weight. This takes the pressure off the joints and slows the progress of osteoarthritis.
- Try aerobic exercise. This improves the circulation in the joints and reduces the progress of the arthritic.
- Build muscle strength. Do some gentle weight lifting so the increased muscle mass can protect the weakened joints.
- Try to do stretching exercises each day. This increases the range of motion of the joint so that it feels better during every day activities.
- Think about glucosamine and chondroitin. There is some research to support the idea that they can reduce the pain of arthritis.
What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Arthritis?
Aging joints are a major factor in getting cervical arthritis. If you are greater than 50 years of age, the cervical discs become less of a cushion because they are less spongy. The bones and ligaments become thicker and shrink the space of the spinal canal where the cervical nerves pass through.
People in certain occupations or who perform certain acts that involve repetitive motion of the neck or carrying heavy objects on your shoulders, are at greater risk for developing arthritis of the neck at a later date. Athletes can carry a higher risk for later osteoarthritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Arthritis?
The major symptoms of cervical arthritis include:
- A headache in the back of your head
- Stiffness of the neck
- Pain in the neck
- Pain in the arms or shoulders
- Problems turning the head or bending the head
- Problems driving because of inability to turn the head
- Grinding sensation when moving the head
- Improvement of symptoms with rest
- Cervical myelopathy, which involves damage to the nerves in the neck
How do doctors diagnose cervical arthritis?
After a thorough history and physical, the doctor may do plain film x-rays and a CT scan or MRI scan of the neck. The CT scan and the MRI can give the doctor a good cross sectional image of the bones and disk spaces. They can tell the doctor if a fusion is necessary.
If you have cervical arthritis, you need to take time to rest your neck and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications for pain. Sometimes a chiropractor can temporarily relieve the pain and a cervical collar can take the stress off the joints. Physical therapy using gentle massage and heat and cold application may be able to help. Some doctors use cortisone injections into the cervical joints which can make a difference for several months.
When is Surgery Needed?
If you’ve tried everything and you’re stuck with pain you can’t tolerate, it may be time for surgery. Arthritis lasts a long time but there comes a time when a laminectomy or cervical fusion is necessary. Talk to your orthopedic surgeon about which procedure or procedures you may need.