How Osteoarthritis Affects the Cervical Spine

How Osteoarthritis Affects the Cervical Spine

Cervical osteoarthritis can become painfully disabling if ignored. Our Yale Neurosurgery New London team, led by neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Doherty, explains osteoarthritis of the cervical spine (neck) and the treatments we offer to address your pain and decreased mobility.

Understanding the effects of cervical osteoarthritis

The cervical spine is a complex structure that runs from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders. This uppermost portion of your spine includes discs, vertebrae, facet joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves vulnerable to the effects of the most common form of arthritis – osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear type of arthritis that reduces the protective nature of cartilage, which covers the ends of bones within joints and helps provide frictionless movement. Inflammation, degenerative changes, and other problems related to osteoarthritis of the spinal facet joints and intervertebral discs of the neck can result in:

Symptoms of nerve entrapment include muscle weakness, numbness, pain, problems with balance, and loss of bowel or bladder function. The nerve damage can become permanent if the condition irritating the nerves is not corrected.

What causes cervical osteoarthritis?

The age-related wear and tear of osteoarthritis causes joint cartilage to thin and eventually erode. Degenerative changes also affect intervertebral discs, causing them to dry and crack with age. In addition, a traumatic neck injury, poor posture, or overuse injury arising during sports or work activities can trigger or speed up osteoarthritic changes.

As cartilage erodes, inflammation, stiffness, and pain develop in the small facet joints that connect vertebrae in the spine. Discs lose their cushioning effects. These structural changes can compress nerves and strain nearby muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Eventually, cartilage erosion causes the bone to wear away, which your body attempts to overcome by building new bone tissue that eventually creates bone spurs.

Fortunately, treatment can relieve the pressure and thus the symptoms created by osteoarthritis in the cervical spine.

Treating and preventing cervical osteoarthritis

Based on the results of your evaluation, we create a treatment strategy for cervical osteoarthritis that may include physical therapy, joint injections to reduce inflammation, posture correction, and activity modification.

If conservative treatment fails to relieve your symptoms, Dr. Doherty may recommend minimally invasive surgery to address spinal stenosis, disc deterioration, and other conditions that can compress nerves.

You can’t always prevent osteoarthritis in the cervical spine. However, you can stall its progression or limit its effects on your mobility with routine exercise, good posture, and other spine-friendly habits. Following your evaluation and treatment for osteoarthritis, our Yale Neurosurgery New London team develops a personalized program focused on maintaining pain-free mobility. 

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Doherty today for help with back or neck pain interfering with your daily routine.

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