How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Neck

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Neck

Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) typically start in the small joints of the fingers and toes and then move on to the knees and other larger joints. Studies show that as many as 86% of people diagnosed with this progressive inflammatory disease also have RA in the cervical spine (neck).

Neurosurgeon and spine specialist Dr. Patrick Doherty and our team at Yale Neurosurgery New London offer our Connecticut communities top-level care for conditions affecting the back and neck, including spinal changes associated with RA.

Check these facts from our team regarding rheumatoid arthritis and its effects on the neck.

Rheumatoid arthritis vs osteoarthritis

RA is a progressive autoimmune disease caused by a faulty immune response to the synovial tissue lining many of the body’s joints. As a result, your immune system mistakenly identifies the joint tissue as a toxic invader dangerous to your health.

This triggers an inflammatory response designed to protect your body by expelling the foreign substance. Instead, the chronic inflammation related to RA destroys healthy tissue, eventually leading to significant joint pain, stiffness, and deterioration. RA also affects areas beyond the joints, including the skin, hair, cardiovascular system, nerves, and muscles.

Symptoms of RA can include:

Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is commonly caused by age or overuse injuries that damage or wear away joint cartilage over time. Joints most often affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, and other weight-bearing joints. Both RA and osteoarthritis can affect bones and joints within the spine.

How rheumatoid arthritis affects the neck

A small synovial joint lies between the first and second vertebrae of the cervical spine (C1 and C2) just under the base of the skull. This pivot joint allows you to turn your head from side to side and is, unfortunately, vulnerable to RA.

Chronic synovial inflammation (synovitis) related to RA leads to bone and ligament destruction, which may eventually cause the affected vertebrae to shift out of place. This instability may result in compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Symptoms of cervical spine RA may include:

Compression of the spinal cord caused by vertebral instability can also cause difficulty with balance and loss of bowel or bladder control.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in the neck

Treatment for cervical spine RA generally focuses on reducing inflammation, preserving joint health, and slowing disease progression.

Whenever possible, based on your evaluation results, Dr. Doherty starts with conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, injection-based therapies, or physical therapy to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation.

For severe joint damage or nerve compression, he may recommend minimally invasive neck surgery to restabilize the spine and relieve your symptoms. Dr. Doherty is also a robotic surgery specialist, which adds an extra dimension of precision to delicate spine surgery. You may also benefit from an evaluation by a rheumatologist to prevent further disease spread or systemic damage related to RA.

Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Doherty at Yale Neurosurgery New London by calling the office today. 

You Might Also Enjoy...

What to Expect After Your Cervical Spinal Fusion

Are you wondering what happens while you’re healing from cervical spine fusion? How long does it take to heal? Can you work? Will you need rehab? Our team explains spinal fusion and how the healing process differs from other surgeries.

Vertebral Fracture Treatment: What Are My Options?

Treatment for a broken vertebra depends on why and where it occurs and whether surrounding structures are affected by the fracture. Fortunately, most respond to conservative care that relieves pain and improves mobility as the fracture heals.

Signs That a Herniated Disc Is in Your Future

Most people don’t think about their intervertebral discs until something goes wrong and the pain starts. Our team discusses factors that increase your risk of disc disease, warning signs to watch for, and steps you can take to protect your discs.

How Effective Is Surgery for Chronic Neck Pain?

Are you considering surgery for neck pain that’s lasted longer than three months? Have you tried physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, or activity modification for pain relief? Learn why surgery may be next and what to expect afterward.

What to Expect After Your Spine Surgery

Wondering what happens after spine surgery? Our specialty team offers insight regarding recovery and rehab and how quickly you can expect a return to routine activities, possibly sooner than you imagined.

What to Do About a Strained Neck Muscle

The bad news? Neck pain is very common. The good news? Most neck pain is due to muscular strain that responds well to commonsense home care. Check these facts about strained neck muscles and the remedies that help.