Osteoarthritis of the neck commonly occurs in patients in their 50s, but can occur earlier.
The most common cause is genetics, so osteoarthritis is considered an inherited condition. If your parents and grandparents have arthritis of the neck, chances are you may develop it at some point in your life.
But this doesn’t mean individuals who don’t have a family history of osteoarthritis are completely in the clear. Like all other joints affected by arthritis, injuries can contribute to earlier (and more drastic) onset. Whiplash and sports injuries (football, rugby, gymnastics, etc.) can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis of the neck. Any activity that carries a risk of impact to the neck can cause or exacerbate osteoarthritis.
- Neck pain
- Pain radiating into the muscles
- Stiffness of neck muscles
- Lack of flexibility
Occasionally (when there is enough wear and tear in the joint) they body reacts by building up small bone spurs. This is a common consequence of more advanced arthritis. These bone spurs can narrow the outlet from the neck (where the nerves exit and go down to the arms).
Some patients with more advanced osteoarthritis of the neck may also have shooting pain down the arm. They may have tingling, numbness, and a feeling of heat. These sensations will follow the exact course of one nerve, so they may pass all the way to one of your fingers.
Osteoarthritis Neck Treatment
There are a few ways you can go about treating osteoarthritis of the neck.
Physiotherapy is often recommended for patients suffering from neck stiffness, neck pain, and some radiating pain into the arm.
Physiotherapy encompasses an assessment of your condition, guided exercise, manual manipulation, and stretching. It aims to increase muscle mass around your joints, improve your range of motion, reduce inflammation, and prevent your condition from getting worse.
Physiotherapy can also help correct posture while soothing the affected muscles and joints.
In some cases, this treatment could include both acupuncture and chiropractic treatment — where a gentle manipulation of the neck can lead to an overall reduction of pain in the joints.
During your initial assessment with a physiotherapist, sports medicine physician, or a chiropractor, we would determine whether or not the arthritis has actually affected that nerve outlet (what we call the intervertebral foramen), and is causing narrowing or stenosis. If a patient has intervertebral foraminal stenosis, leading to a radiculopathy (compression of the nerve), they might require other forms of therapy in addition to physiotherapy.
An ergonomic analysis entails visits to patients’ homes and offices to conduct an appropriate assessment of their environment. This checks things like the height of the desk, the height of the monitor, chair height, chair depth, and other factors that determine posture.
By analyzing the environment, a specialist will make recommendations for an appropriate course of treatment and environmental improvements.
Symptoms that are associated with arthritis of the neck are worse when patients have poor posture. The typical slouched posture that we all assume after sitting at our computers for six or seven hours (with a rounding of the back, thrusting of the head and chin) exacerbates the condition. Poor posture leads to closing down of the joints in the neck — applying pressure to the cartilage that lines those joints — and over time, can theoretically break down more of that cartilage, which leads to earlier osteoarthritis.
In a patient who already has osteoarthritis, postural dysfunction increases their symptoms, because we’re applying force to those joints where the cartilage is already damaged.
Specialized postural braces – which look a little bit like backward suspenders – gently nudge you every time you slouch or your posture isn’t correct. This compels you to sit up straight, helping the spine hold the head and neck in its perfect position.
Surgery might be required if the pain has extended down from the neck and into the arms, if the patient’s fingers are tingling constantly, or if there’s any indication of a nerve injury.
In some cases, the surgery is a very complex procedure.
It could involve removing a piece of the bone in and around the affected joint and conducting a stabilization procedure.
A more limited surgery, or a decompression, involves removing small fragments of the bone around the affected nerve so that there’s more space to move. The majority of patients with neck osteoarthritis can be treated with this limited, conservative approach.
Osteoarthritis neck treatment can be treated by a specific group of medications including what are called tricyclic antidepressants.
These used to be earmarked specifically for depression but are no longer mandated for the purpose. In small doses, they’re actually very good at reducing neck pain.
Another group of medicines is pregabalin. While this is originally a drug used to treat epilepsy, it can, in certain doses, also help treat and reduce nerve pain.
Finally, some emergent evidence suggests that medical marijuana may also have a positive impact.
Suffering from pains, aches, or other discomforts in your neck? Are they hampering your daily activities? Come in for a consultation and start treating your condition today.