Two types of arthritis commonly lead to neck pain: cervical spondylosis and rheumatoid arthritis. With both types, it’s joint damage that causes pain and discomfort in your neck.
Neck Pain and Cervical Spondylosis
Neck or cervical spine pain becomes more common as you age, often because of age-related degeneration of the neck bones. This wear and tear is what causes cervical spondylosis, also known as osteoarthritis of the neck or cervical osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis may be accompanied by the growth of bony spurs and problems with the ligaments and disks in the neck.
Cervical Spondylosis Symptoms
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis may include:
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Pain that may radiate into the arms
- Numbness or weakness in the arms and hands
- Numbness or weakness in the legs or feet that may lead to problems with balance
- Neck popping or neck cracking, or grinding or clicking sounds in the neck
- Muscle spasms in the neck
- Trouble sleeping
Cervical Spondylosis Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose cervical spondylosis, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. You may also need to undergo imaging studies, such as X-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), so that your doctor can view the vertebrae, disks, and ligaments of the neck and look for any abnormalities, such as bone spurs, that may be contributing to your symptoms.
Treatment options for cervical spondylosis include:
- Limiting neck movement, which may mean wearing a cervical collar
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain medication to help relieve your pain and swelling
- Physical therapy
- Heat therapy
- Ice therapy
- Exercises to improve poor posture
- Chiropractic manipulation
- Neck exercise to strengthen and stretch the cervical spine
- Neck steroid injections in some cases
- In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the spinal cord from bone spurs or a herniated disk
Neck Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Another type of arthritis that can cause neck pain is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory disease that can damage the joints. While rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints of the fingers and wrists, it can also affect other joints, including the neck.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
The symptoms and signs of inflammation may include:
- Warm, tender, swollen joints
- Joint pain and stiffness in the morning lasting more than 30 minutes
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis and Treatment
A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis begins with a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms. Your doctor may also order laboratory tests, such as blood tests and X-rays, to get a better understanding of your condition.
RA affects each person differently, and treatment will depend on your symptoms and how severe they are. Common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Medications to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
- Medications to slow joint damage, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers
- Rest when you need it
- Chiropractic treatment to alleviate neck pain through adjustments to your neck’s vertebrae.
- Splints to support swollen, painful joints
- Surgery when necessary; this may involve joint replacement (depending on the joint involved), reconstruction of tendons, or removal of inflamed tissue.
Ways to Treat Neck Pain at Home
In addition to medical treatments, consider:
- Exercise. When your disease isn’t active, get moving — just don’t overdo it. In moderation, it can reduce your pain, help with movement, make you feel less tired, and it’s just a good thing to do for overall health. Your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation may offer water exercise and other kinds of classes specifically for people with arthritis.
- Ice packs. The next time you need to reduce swelling and pain, go to your freezer and grab a bag of frozen peas or corn — these aids conform easily to the neck area.
- Not smoking. If you smoke, find a way to stop. The chance of complications from RA increases if you smoke, as do your odds of developing osteoporosis.
- Warm baths. Besides helping with sleep, a warm bath can soothe achy joints and relax muscle tension.
- Herbal remedies. If you’re looking for natural relief, turmeric, the common kitchen spice, is known to be an anti-inflammatory and may reduce neck pain caused by inflammation. Boswellia is another natural pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties.
- Yoga exercise. This ancient practice, which involves stretches, poses, and meditation, is not only a great exercise, but it also relieves stress and neck pain by reducing tension.
- Massage. Have your partner or a professional gently massage your neck where it hurts, for temporary relief.
Neck Pain: Related Conditions
Neck pain is common among those who are 50 or older. “But I have children who come into my office with neck pain,” says Robin Lustig, DC, CCSP, of New Jersey Total Health in Lodi, N.J.
Other common causes of neck pain include:
Pinched nerve. This occurs when too much pressure is placed on a nerve by surrounding tissue. The pain from a pinched nerve in your neck can radiate into your shoulders, arms, or back. When you have a pinched nerve, you may also feel numbness or tingling in the area.
Injury or trauma such as a car accident or a fall. Injury or trauma to the neck can have long-lasting effects and cause arthritis years later, Dr. Lustig says.
A stiff neck. This is when it’s painful or difficult to move your neck from side to side. “A stiff neck can be caused by sleeping on your stomach in a funny position for a long time or from a muscle that went into spasm,” Lustig says.
Cervical myelopathy. This condition occurs when the spinal cord channel in the back of your neck narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord, which can result in neck pain and numbness or weakness in your hands, arms, legs, and feet.
Shoulder arthritis. “People often develop shoulder arthritis where there is wear and tear or overuse,” Lustig says. The pain from shoulder arthritis can radiate into the neck.
Poor posture. If you sit hunched over your computer all day or hold the phone with your neck while you’re working at your computer, your neck can hurt at the end of the day.
Tumors. A tumor in the cervical region of the spine will cause neck pain and should be examined to determine the best course of treatment. As the tumor grows, it can cause pain as it compresses different nerves.
Meningitis. Neck pain and stiffness is a primary symptom of this infection, which can be life-threatening. If your neck pain and stiffness is accompanied by fever and vomiting, see your doctor immediately.
Lack of magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that plays an important role in the way our bodies function. Many people lack magnesium in their diet. Researchers have linked a lack of magnesium to cramps, twitches, muscle tension, soreness, and back and neck pain.
New Research on Neck Pain
Arthritis cannot currently be cured, but researchers are working from many different angles to learn how this disease develops in order to find a cure.
Some of the new research on arthritis includes:
- Focus on cells. Scientists are studying T-cells, a major player in immunity. They want to find out how inflammation starts so they can stop it.
- Gene study. To find the genes responsible for rheumatoid arthritis, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Arthritis Foundation are supporting the North American Rheumatoid Arthritis Consortium. At 10 research centers around the United States, scientists are gathering information and genetic samples from 1,000 families in which at least two siblings have the disease.
- Other studies. Researchers are also looking at hormones, bacteria, and viruses in the hope of learning more about RA.
- Clinical trials. As for research into cervical spondylosis, a recent look on the NIH clinical trials Web site turned up eight trials involving this disorder.
Neck Pain Prevention is Key
You can prevent some neck pain with these steps:
Learn stretching exercises. Consult a physical therapist if necessary. You should stretch every day especially before and after you exercise. If after exercising, your neck hurts, apply ice immediately.
Keep your back and neck supported. This is a must, especially sitting at your computer. If your computer is at eye level, it will keep you from having to look up and down and constantly change your neck position. Use a headset when talking on the telephone to avoid straining your neck.
Sleep with support. Use a firm mattress. If your neck is sore in the morning, you might want to buy a pillow that supports your neck as well.
Click it. Protect yourself from trauma by always using a seat belt when riding in a car.
Managing neck pain requires a consistent approach and carefully following the treatment plan outlined by your healthcare provider. You’re the one in charge of making sure you take the time to exercise, strengthen, and soothe muscles. At times you’ll feel challenged, but if you stay determined, you’ll have the best possible outcome.
New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.
New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.
Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.
If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.