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Neck Pain OA

Degenerative arthritis in the neck is common from mid-life onward. Almost everyone has this condition to a greater or lesser extent by the time they turn 50, with continued deterioration over time. However the extent and severity of the condition can be mitigated by attention to posture, overall good health and nutrition, exercise and proper treatment.

Osteoarthritis in the neck is also referred to as cervical spondylosis and degenerative arthritis. The lower part of the neck is generally the earliest and worst affected. In older people, chronic stiffness and aching in the neck with restricted movement is most likely due to osteoarthritis of the spine. Turning the head may be difficult; this is especially noticeable when driving.

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain extending from the neck  to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
  • Pain and stiffness that is worse first thing in the morning, and improves after getting up and moving around
  • The pain tends to get worse again at the end of the day
  • Generally feels better with rest (lying down)
  • May cause headaches, especially headaches in the back of the head

More findings in spinal osteoarthritis (visible on X-Ray, CT scan and MRI):

  • Thinning or bulging of the discs (the cartilage pads between the vertebrae) can cause nerve root compression (pinched nerve) and pain in the neck that can radiate to the arms, as well as numbness and/or muscle weakness.
  • Bone spur formation on the spine can also cause nerve pressure with pain and/or numbness in the arms and hands.
  •  Degenerative joint changes – roughened joint surfaces (causing grating or clicking noises as the joints rub together).
  • More severe  problems occur when osteoarthritis causes narrowing of the central spinal canal (spinal stenosis), causing pressure on the spinal cord (myelopathy). In this case there may be pain, numbness and/or weakness in the arms and legs, as well as possible bowel and bladder weakness.

A stiff sore neck caused by osteoarthritis can usually be managed effectively with natural, non invasive treatments.

  • Rest when the pain is severe
  • Heat packs are generally helpful and recommended.
  • Stretches for the neck can help flexibility, and these are most effective after the use of heat.
  • If your neck is very sore, an ice pack can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Wearing a traction collar can be very helpful as it stretches and elongates the spine, reducing pressure on the discs, spinal joints and nerves, and helps relax tight muscles. This can be used daily, and can be worn while continuing with activities.
  • Other forms of fixed traction may be necessary if greater decompression is needed.
  • Overall it is important to stay active, as this improves bone density, circulation, flexibility and joint health.
  • Exercises including warm water exercises and walking can help to maintain mobility.
  • Pay attention to neck posture, especially while sitting.
  • You may need to change sleep habits to minimize pain and discomfort upon waking in the morning.
  • Sleeping on a contour pillow helps to support and maintain proper alignment of the neck.
  • Using a neck support cushion while sitting or travelling can reduce strain on the neck.
  • Gentle, low force chiropractic and osteopathic treatments are very effective in improving the mobility and flexibility of the neck. This type of treatment helps to free up arthritic joints, loosen tight muscle and ligaments, realign the vertebrae and relieve nerve pressure.
  • Good quality nutrition supplements for arthritis are recommended, especially Glucosamine and Chondroitin as well as fish or krill oil (or flaxseed oil if you are  vegetarian).
  • If you also have bone loss (osteoporosis) or you are aged over 50 (women) or 60 (men),  you may also want to consider a good bone formulation and Vit D3. Calcium hydroxyapatite or Green Calcium (if you are vegetarian) are excellent bone supplements.
  • Magnesium tablets are also effective as a muscle relaxant.
  • Using a TENS unit can help control chronic pain, and is a viable alternative to having to continually take pain medication
  • Medical treatments: Cortisone injections into the neck are often used to reduce inflammation. These can provide temporary relief, however there is growing research that shows cortisone causes bone thinning and should not be used for people with osteoporosis. If you have this condition you have an increased risk of fracture of one of the vertebrae. (These research findings, which were published June 5 2013 in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, suggest that older patients with low bone density should be cautious about steroid injections.)
  • Surgery is generally the option of last resort in severe cases.