When most people think of arthritis, they automatically think of weak knees and painful, inflamed fingers. However, if you notice your neck feeling stiff or experience pain when turning your head, it's likely caused by arthritis. Like the rest of your body, your neck's discs and joints degenerate over time due to wear and tear.
With that in mind, here's what you need to know about arthritis in the neck—and how a chiropractor can help.
Symptoms of Neck Arthritis
Although arthritis in the neck is relatively common, symptoms may vary. However, generally, they inflict mild to severe pain and stiffness in the neck.
Other symptoms may include:
- Debilitating headaches
- Grinding and popping noise when turning the neck
- Constant muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder areas
- Difficulty in walking
- Sudden weakness in the hands and legs
The pain may worsen when you look up and down for an extended period. Participating in activities where the neck stays in the same position for a long time, such as driving or reading, may also contribute to more pain. These usually subside when you rest or lie down.
However, it can become debilitating when there's compression on your spinal cord, causing the symptoms mentioned.
Types of Arthritis Affecting the Neck
Neck pain may root from different causes, but many people experiencing stiff and sore necks that don't see any improvements over time get diagnosed with some form of neck arthritis.
Here are the most common ones:
This type of arthritis pertains to the degeneration of your cervical joints, vertebra, and discs. When this happens, they get less padding in between them, leading to these parts rubbing against each other, causing small bone fragments to break off and float inside your joint's synovial fluid—causing debilitating pain. This process may also stimulate bony projections' growth, leaving less room for the spine nerves sticking out from the spinal cord.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
This type of arthritis in the neck is a chronic inflammatory disease where your immune system attacks the joint lining. These typically begin in the smaller joints located on your hands and feet, then spreading to other parts like the neck. Severe neck pain is the initial symptom of rheumatoid arthritis in the neck, with its general severity varying from person to person. You may also feel a dull and throbbing ache in the back of your neck located at the skull's base.
All these can make it challenging to move your head from side to side. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis in the neck doesn't get better on its own, worsening when left untreated.
Ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis make a type of neck arthritis commonly known as "spondyloarthritis." Generally, it's an umbrella term of a group of inflammatory conditions involving joints and entheses, the areas where the tendons and ligaments attach to your bones.
Psoriatic arthritis, as its name implies, is a form of arthritis alongside psoriasis sores. For some individuals suffering from this condition, this may affect their spine, which, in turn, affects the neck. The pain produced usually happens on a single body part, ranging from the neck to your lower back. Meanwhile, ankylosing spondylitis is arthritis, striking the bones in your spinal cord and pelvis. This condition may inflict pain and stiffness in your lower back and hips, especially in the early mornings and after a long period of inactivity.
Treatment for Neck Arthritis
In many cases, treatment options for arthritis in the neck don’t involve surgery. Here are some of them.
- Modify Rest and Activities
A simple way to alleviate neck pain associated with arthritis is going easy on your neck, efficiently easing pain without any additional requirements. Besides minimizing activity, it's best to modify some activities, like using different swim strokes if you often swim or running without moving your head too much when out for a jog.
- Analgesic and NSAIDs
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help you address neck pain and swelling. The most common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, efficiently relieving pain and reducing swelling. Meanwhile, analgesic medications like acetaminophen can alleviate mild to moderate pain. Additionally, doctors may prescribe more potent anti-inflammatory drugs if OTC drugs don't give you enough relief.
However, keep in mind that though NSAIDs and analgesics are OTC, you must consult with your doctor first regarding its side effects and drug interactions,
- Heat or Cold Therapy
A classic and efficient way of treating neck pain associated with arthritis is performing cold or heat therapy. Cold therapy is when you apply ice to the affected area, efficiently reducing inflammation and numbing the pain. Meanwhile, heat therapy involves using a heat pack, increasing the blood flow, and relaxing the surrounding muscles. When performing these two, ensure that applications only last around 15 minutes each session with a 2-hour rest in between.
Besides those mentioned, other treatment options are available, such as therapeutic injections or cervical spinal fusion surgery for individuals with a severe case of neck arthritis. However, if you're not too keen on getting surgery or the treatment methods don't work for you, visiting a chiropractor is your best choice.
A chiropractor can help by providing an accurate diagnosis of your arthritis in the neck and creating a tailored treatment plan for your particular condition. They may conduct tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and a CT scan to identify your overall state, allowing them to create a management plan focused on treating compromised alignment, damaged joints, and nerve system irritation.
However, keep in mind that you should seek chiropractors specializing or have experience with treating cervical or neck issues thanks to their unique evaluation nature and management—and one of the best in the field is Dr. Debole.
He's a well-trained and experienced chiropractor, boasting years of experience working in several facilities like DeBole chiropractic, and can perform safe and efficient cervical spine adjustments with ease. Dr. Debole offers other services, such as spinal decompression for back pain and pregnancy chiropractic care for expecting mothers.
Treat your neck arthritis with the help of Dr. Debole to get back your range of motion and comfort, enhancing your overall health and well-being.