Rheumatoid arthritis in the cervical spine

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can sometimes affect the vertebrae and joints in the cervical spine (neck), causing severe pain and limited mobility.

RA is an autoimmune condition that typically affects the joints in your body and causes swelling and inflammation at the site of the joints. While this condition is naturally painful, rheumatoid arthritis in the cervical spine can be particularly painful if a surrounding nerve root is impacted by the swelling joint. The nerve roots in the cervical spine transmit sensory messages between the brain, shoulder, arm and hand. If one of these nerves is impacted, the result could be pain, numbness and/or tingling in the associated extremities.

Cause of rheumatoid arthritis in the cervical spine

It is not exactly clear why this condition affects the upper spine more frequently than the lumbar (lower) spine. In fact, the causes of rheumatoid arthritis are still not well understood. What is acknowledged, however, is that rheumatoid arthritis of the cervical spine attacks the lining of joints, is diagnosed in women more frequently than men, and has no known cure.

Spinal rheumatoid arthritis is sometimes mistaken for osteoarthritis of the spine or degenerative disc disease, because the symptoms can be similar. However, in addition to stiffness, pain and joint swelling, sufferers of rheumatic arthritis in the cervical spine may experience progressive, crippling spinal curvature or partial paralysis.

Treatments to help reduce the pain of RA in the cervical spine

Even though there is no cure, the symptoms of this condition typically can be managed in the early stages through many of the same nonsurgical treatments used to manage the pain of osteoarthritis. These include:

  • Exercise to strengthen the neck muscles
  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain medicine
  • Chiropractic therapy
  • Massage
  • Anti-inflammatory injections
  • Physical therapy

If chronic pain and other spinal arthritis symptoms persist after months of conservative treatment, surgery may be suggested as a treatment option.

To avoid highly invasive open spinal surgery, consider a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive procedures offer a shorter recovery time,^ lower risks and a higher patient satisfaction score (98) than traditional open back surgery.^

We encourage you to contact one of our spine care experts to discuss your rheumatoid arthritis, the impact it has had on your cervical spine, and the minimally invasive procedures we have to help you. Call our spine care experts for more information today.