Arthritis is an inflammatory illness of joints that can affect every joint in the body. In the case of, arthritis of the neck, the most common type reported is osteoarthritis. This condition is also known as cervical spondylosis. Apart from osteoarthritis there are several other types of arthritis which can affect this particular region and they include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter's disease, gout, pseudogout and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis.
Cervical osteoarthritis generally affects older people (typically people over the age of 40). The condition is more common in men. It features a degenerative change of the cervical spine. Specific changes in cartilage metabolism cause gradual wear and tear of cervical discs and surrounding joint tissues. Once the damage has reached a certain degree the disc may bulge, it can be structurally changed (build-up of calcium within the disc), and there is also a chance of developing bony growths on the spine. Each of these structural changes may lead to irritation or compression of the nerve roots and subsequent inflammation.
Symptoms of Neck Arthritis
Symptoms of neck arthritis, which basically depend on the location of root irritation or compression are, pain, numbness, muscle weakness, neck stiffness and headache. If the changes on the joint tissues are not so intensive the condition can be asymptomatic and only confirmed with an x ray.
The pain may be localized to the neck or it can radiate down the arms. Numbness and weakness of the muscles affect the arms. In case a patient reports numbness and weakness in the legs it is most certain that structural changes have led to irritation / compression of the spinal cord. Similarly if the process is extensive and affects the spinal cord, one may also have problems with urination.
Symptoms tend to intensify with turning, extending and bending the neck.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Neck Arthritis
Diagnosis can be confirmed with the assistance of patient's medical history, physical and neurological exam and several more tests. Conformation of the arthritis is achieved with X ray of the affected area. It can point to degenerative changes on certain structures of the neck joints. Irritation and compression of the nerve roots or even spinal cord can be properly visualized with MRI or CT scan of the cervical spine. Nerve conduction studies provide with information of how much the function of particular nerves is affected.
The treatment for neck arthritis depends on the type of arthritis. One of its goals is to stabilize the neck which can be perfectly achieved by a cervical collar. Even more rigid braces are available if necessary. Medicamentous treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications, analgesics and muscle relaxants. In severe cases patients are administered steroid injections. Patients can also benefit from physical therapy (ultrasound, electrical stimulation etc). Surgical treatment is the last option and is only recommended if the results are not obtained with conservative treatment and in case there are serious neurological deficits due to compression of nerve roots or even the spinal cord.