by Alan Jordan
Degeneration of the neck is called cervical spondylosis and, as expected, it increases with age. In most individuals, this process begins around the age of 40 and continues thereafter. Men and women are affected equally and spondylosis affects the vertebrae, the discs and the joints of the neck.
Spondylosis should not be confused with inflammatory arthritis and its many variations, which has been addressed in another Broadgate Journal article written by Dr Gerard Hall, Consultant Rheumatologist at Broadgate.
The neck is a weight-bearing structure and must carry the head and as is the case with other weight-bearing joints is prone to degeneration over time. Other major joints where arthritic changes commonly take place include the lower spine, the hips and the knee joints. In the neck region, it is the lower segments that most commonly demonstrate arthritic changes. In addition to carrying the head, most of the movement in forward, backward and bending from side to side also takes place in this region. More information on how the neck is constructed as well as its function can be found in this Broadgate Journal article.
Secondary spondylosis is caused as a result of a previous injury to the neck. A sports related injury at a young age for example, may damage certain tissues of the neck which leads to “early” arthritic changes.
How do we Diagnose Neck Arthritis?
A careful medical history is undertaken followed by a thorough examination. Both global and segmental movement of the neck are assessed and the muscles of the upper and lower limbs are examined along with their reflexes. Finally, X-rays, CT or MRI scans are of central importance in identifying degenerative changes.
Symptoms Associated with Neck Osteoarthritis
Longstanding pain and stiffness are the most commonly expressed complaints that patients provide.
- Neck pain that is worse with activity performed when patient is upright.
- Neck pain that radiates to the upper shoulder region and occasionally to the arms.
- Grinding sounds in the neck with movement.
Symptoms are generally worse in the morning and towards the end of the day. Their intensity is usually reduced with rest.
Neck osteoarthritis can make it difficult to find a comfortable position to fall asleep as well as affecting the ability to work and the ability to perform usual daily activities – particularly desk bound tasks as well as tasks requiring repetitive arm movements.
More severe osteoarthritis of the neck may result in:
- Numbness and weakness in arms, hands, fingers.
- Weakness in the legs, trouble walking, loss of balance.