Arthritis in the neck — how it develops

Usually when we think of arthritis, we think about the joints in the hands or fingers becoming stiff and painful to move. Maybe sometimes we think about the hips and knees — joints that continually move with almost every daily activity.

However, perhaps one of the most common places for arthritis to occur is in the spine, particularly in the neck or lower back. 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 (arthritis of the spine) in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions as they get older.

Arthritis in the neck and lower back develops in the joints of the spine, called the facet joints. The facet joints of the spine are formed where nearby vertebrae meet and hinge. These joints are covered in cartilage, which allows the vertebrae to pivot with smooth, frictionless movement. However, over time the cartilage wears away, which can cause mechanical problems like joint stiffness and spontaneous joint lockage.

Symptoms of arthritis in the neck

In addition to the discomfort of mechanical symptoms like joint stiffness and limited mobility, arthritis in the neck can lead to neurological symptoms. If the cartilage wears down 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 can radiate throughout the neck, shoulders, arms and hands, or in rare cases, also the legs:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

Treatments for osteoarthritis

There is no cure for osteoarthritis in the spine, but there are a variety of nonsurgical treatment methods that can help you reduce your 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. These treatments aim to remove the pressure on the joints and pinched nerve by strengthening the muscles around the spine to help support the weight of the body.

Surgery for osteoarthritis in the spine is rarely necessary and is generally reserved for patients whose conditions are severe and debilitating. However, if you have tried several months of conservative treatment and you are still suffering, you may be a candidate for Laser Spine Institute’s minimally invasive spine surgery. Our procedures give patients a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back surgery by reducing the risk of complication and shortening the recovery time.^

For patients with arthritis of the neck, our team may recommend a minimally invasive facet thermal ablation. This procedure reduces the inflammation in the joints caused by arthritis and then deadens the nerves immediately around the arthritic joint to help prevent future pain. This recommendation will be made after our spine care specialists review your MRI or CT scan; we may also recommend a different surgery depending on your condition and medical history.

To see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery to treat arthritis in the neck, contact Laser Spine Institute today and send us a request for an MRI or CT scan review.