As we age, the muscles bones and tissue in our bodies begin to degenerate and cause pain and limited mobility. The upper back and neck are not immune to this degeneration and can be at risk for cervical osteoarthritis. Cervical osteoarthritis, also called neck arthritis or cervical spondylosis, occurs when the discs that cushion and separate the vertebrae in the spine begin to break down and lose fluid. Sufferers of cervical osteoarthritis experience stiffness and pain in the neck and upper back and that discomfort, if left untreated, can result in more chronic pain and advanced cervical osteoarthritis symptoms.
Cervical osteoarthritis can begin as early as age forty-five and the risk for the increases as age increases. The discs between the vertebrae begin to provide less of an effective cushion for the bones in the spine and leave the vertebrae with less protection from normal daily function and impact.
People with physically demanding occupations such as athletes, construction workers and truck drivers have a higher risk of cervical osteoarthritis. As well as those who perform jobs that require constant repetitive motion including desk work and warehouse positions. Injury and trauma to the neck and upper back can also trigger cervical osteoarthritis and over time poor posture can also cause the condition.
Neck stiffness accompanied by a headache originating at the back of the skull can be a warning sign of potential cervical osteoarthritis.
People who suffer from this condition experience impaired mobility with difficulty bending and turning the neck. This can hinder driving and basic daily activities. Cervical osteoarthritis sufferers also experience difficulty driving with the limited range of neck and upper back mobility and the pain from this condition can radiate down to the shoulders, arms and finger tips. Some patients report numbness and loss of strength in the arms and hands making it difficult to perform simple tasks like carrying groceries. Cervical osteoarthritis can limit the ability to participate in recreational activities and hobbies. In some advanced cases, patients experience grinding of the bones when they turn their head.
Because cervical osteoarthritis symptoms are usually more severe in the early morning or late in the evening, many patients brush it off as normal aging pains and avoid getting their symptoms professionally assessed and diagnosed. Pain from cervical osteoarthritis can be alleviated by increased motion and activity during the day and rest but the condition requires careful treatment to avoid advanced injury to your spine. Over time, as the facet joints deteriorate, the body begins to over compensate for the missing cushion between the cervical vertebrae by producing bone spurs. These bony growths, or cervical osteophytes, can compress the nerves in your spine and result in increased nerve pain and muscle weakness in the arms. Cervical osteophytes can also cause spinal cord dysfunction that can put the function and mobility of all of your limbs at risk.
Resting can alleviate the pain of cervical osteoarthritis but proper treatment is essential to preventing the condition from advancing. Physical therapy and neck exercises can strengthen the neck muscles and improve mobility. Limiting movement and supporting the area with a cervical collar has also been successful treatment for the symptoms of cervical osteoarthritis as well as hot and cold therapy. Physical medicine professionals are skilled in traction methods used to combat the progression of cervical osteoarthritis once it has been diagnosed.
Untreated cervical osteoarthritis can require the use of anti-inflammatory and pain medications. While pain medication comes with a host of side-effects and risks, some patients find themselves with no other option for relieve when cervical osteoarthritis advances without treatment.
In severe cases surgery is required to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and essential nerves that support function in the arms and legs. A surgical procedure to fuse the function of the vertebrae may also be required to stabilize the spine and implants may also need to be inserted to alleviate pain and nerve stress.
Cervical osteoarthritis can happen to anyone so it is vitally important to take neck pain and stiffness seriously by consulting a professional for an assessment. Early detection and treatment can save you from the more invasive treatment options for the condition and restore you to a pain free life.