Arthritis of the Neck

Neck pain is a common part of the natural aging process.

Like the rest of the body, bones in the neck change as we grow older. The surfaces where bones come together become rougher. The discs that cushion the bones of the spine get dryer and the ligaments that hold bones in place become stiffer.

In time, arthritis of the neck may result from bony spurs or rough spots that develop on the surfaces of the bone and form problems with ligaments and discs.

The spinal canal may narrow, pressing on the spinal cord and nerves to the arms. Injuries can also cause pressure on the spinal cord. The resulting pain may range from mild discomfort to severe and crippling.

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Symptoms

Signs of this condition include:

  • Chronic pain and stiffness in the neck that may be worse with upright activity
  • The sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving
  • Involuntary contractions of the muscles (spasms) that cause pain or a loss of movement or headaches that start from the neck
  • Numbness and weakness in the arms, hands and fingers
  • Weakness in the legs and difficulty walking
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and disturbed sleep
  • Difficulties working

If you have arthritis of the neck, symptoms may last for several months or become chronic.

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Diagnosis

In addition to the patient's medical history and a physical examination, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be taken to show the bony spurs that cause the pain.

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Treatments

Most of the time if symptoms are mild, the doctor may recommend rest, a neck brace, drugs and physical therapy. These, however, do not treat the underlying cause.

Surgery may be needed if you have severe pain that does not get better with other treatments or if symptoms are getting worse. Surgery to remove bone spurs or disc material helps free the compressed nerve, providing pain relief.

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