Can arthritis occur in the neck? While the neck may not be the first area of the body that you think of when you consider osteoarthritis, the cervical spine is actually just as susceptible to this degenerative joint condition as the hands, hips, and knees. From the neck to the lower back, the spine is composed of a series of joints that are highly prone to deterioration over time, and many individuals experience osteoarthritis in the upper (cervical) region and lower (lumbar) regions of the spine as they get older.
The facet joints of the spine are formed where adjacent vertebrae meet and articulate. These joints are covered in cartilage, which facilities smooth, frictionless movement. However, over time the cartilage wears away, which can cause mechanical problems like joint stiffness and spontaneous joint lockage. Pain in the facet joints also can arise when the local medial branch nerves that innervate the joint space become irritated and inflamed after the protective layer of cartilage is lost. These are the hallmarks of osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis in the Neck
In addition to the discomfort of mechanical symptoms, arthritis in the neck can also lead to neurological symptoms. If the cartilage deteriorates to the point that vertebrae rub against one another, bone spurs, or osteophytes, can form and compress a nearby spinal nerve root or the spinal cord. If this occurs, the following symptoms may radiate throughout the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands, or in rare cases, also the legs:
- Muscle weakness
Treatments for Osteoarthritis
There is no cure for osteoarthritis in the spine, but the good news is that there are a variety of nonsurgical treatment methods that help many patients to mitigate their pain and regain joint mobility. Once your physician has confirmed a diagnosis of arthritis in the neck or back, he or she will likely prescribe a regimen of conservative treatments that includes physical therapy, hot/cold compresses, anti-inflammatory medication, stretching, and low-impact exercise.
Surgery for osteoarthritis in the spine is rarely necessary and is generally reserved for patients whose condition is severe and debilitating. If you are considering surgery and would like more information about minimally invasive procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute. We specialize in endoscopic nerve decompression surgeries that offer patients with degenerative spine conditions an alternative to highly invasive open spine surgery.