It’s not surprising that neck pain ranks as one of the most common complaints, second only to lower back pain. That’s because, even though your neck is incredibly strong and resilient, it’s also under a lot of pressure. Besides supporting the weight of your head, it also helps you turn your head with ease.
Like any other complex, high-demand joint, the seven small bones, intervertebral discs, nerves, connective tissues, and muscles that make up and support your cervical spine are susceptible to injury, strain, and normal wear-and-tear, all of which can lead to chronic neck pain.
If you’ve been living with ongoing neck pain and stiffness that shows little sign of improvement as time goes on, you may be experiencing the effects of age-related degeneration, also known as neck arthritis. Here’s what you should know about this all-too-common condition.
An estimated one in three adults experiences lingering neck pain on a regular basis. Although sleeping in an awkward position, short episodes of poor posture, and stress-related muscle tension can give rise to the kind of sustained neck pain that feels serious, it eventually subsides on its own.
Chronic neck pain, or neck pain that lasts longer than three months, can often be traced to ongoing muscle strain, unhealed soft tissue trauma, or an underlying structural disorder.
Habitual muscle strain is a frequent cause of chronic neck, head, and shoulder pain. It often comes from spending too much time hunched over a laptop or craning your head forward to peer at your cell phone (the infamous “text neck”).
Similarly, when poor posture becomes the norm, it can bring about structural changes, variations, or misalignments in your cervical spine that give rise to chronic pain and restricted mobility.
Like all joints in your body, the joints that form your cervical spine are prone to the effects of normal wear-and-tear over time. Age-related degeneration of the cervical spine is so common, in fact, that more than 85% of adults past the age of 60 are affected by it.
As you age, the discs in your spine dehydrate, shrink, and weaken, causing the spaces they hold to contract. When the disc spaces in your spine settle or collapse altogether, it brings the facet joints on either side of the space closer together. As pressure increases on these joints, they also begin to show increased signs of wear-and-tear, or osteoarthritis.
Much like osteoarthritis of the knee, hip, or shoulder joint, neck arthritis — also known as cervical spondylosis — can eventually cause the smooth, slippery cartilage that covers and protects each joint to wear away completely.
To compensate for lost cartilage and help reinforce your cervical spine, your body may prompt new bone growth in your facet joints. As time goes on, this overgrowth of bone tissue (bone spurs) can reduce the amount of space in your spinal canal (stenosis) and put pressure on your spinal nerves.
While arthritis-related neck pain and stiffness can range in severity from mild to intense, it’s usually exacerbated by activities (reading, driving) that require you to hold your head in the same position for extended periods of time. These symptoms often improve or subside with rest.
If diagnostic tests and a comprehensive physical exam indicate that you do indeed have neck arthritis, don’t worry — there are many non-surgical ways to manage the condition, alleviate pain, reduce stiffness, and restore optimal range of motion.
Physical therapy uses targeted exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles in your neck and shoulders, which is often one of the best ways to promote immediate and long-term pain relief. Physical therapy may also incorporate posture therapy as well as traction therapy to help create more space between the joints in your cervical spine.
Although taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve moderate arthritis-related neck pain, severe or unrelenting neck pain may require a prescription-strength NSAID or an anti-inflammatory epidural injection to achieve significant or lasting relief.
If you’ve been living with chronic neck pain, the team at The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care can help determine its underlying cause and find the treatment solutions that work best for you. Call your nearest office today, or use the easy online tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Okubadejo any time.