What You Need to Know about Neck Arthritis


Neck arthritis goes by many names, but we refer to it as cervical osteoarthritis. Our video walk-through can help you better understand this common condition:All along the back of your spine are 2 facet joints on each side of your vertebrae (highlighted in pink above). These small joints both provide stability and enable movements like turning and nodding your head.

Each of your facet joints is lined with cartilage. The cartilage is surrounded by a capsule filled with synovial fluid, which lubricates your facet joints and enables smooth movements.

Cervical facet osteoarthritis develops when your cartilage begins to degenerate, or break down. As your cartilage thins (or disappears completely), bone-on-bone friction occurs in your facet joints. This friction can create cervical bone spurs, or osteophytes.

On occasion, your bone spurs may impinge on a nerve root in your neck (pictured above).

This impingement can send symptoms such as pain, weakness, or tingling radiating along the path of the nerve into your arm and hand.

Cervical osteoarthritis can also lead to pain in your neck, upper back, shoulders, and between your shoulder blades. Radiated, or referred pain, may also cause headaches; especially in the back of your head.

You may also experience tenderness or swelling in the area over your affected facet joints, and have a reduced range of motion of your neck.

Treatment options

Cervical osteoarthritis rarely requires surgery, and initial treatment options include both rest and activity modification. In addition, your doctor may recommend any of the following:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Physical therapy
  • Cortisone injections
  • Heat and/or cold therapy
  • Muscle relaxants

See Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Facet Joint Injections

If you don’t respond to conservative treatments, you may be a candidate for a cervical laminectomy and/or cervical spinal fusion surgery.

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