That Pain in Your Neck Could Be Arthritis

Neck pain caused by arthritis (cervical spondylosis) is so common in the United States that the American Orthopedic Association estimates 85% of people over 60 have cervical arthritis.

Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available for chronic neck pain caused by cervical spondylosis. At Yale Neurosurgery New London, our neck pain specialist is board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Doherty.

Although he’s well-known for his surgical skill and is a highly regarded spinal robotic surgery expert, Dr. Doherty prefers to treat cervical arthritis with nonsurgical therapy whenever possible. Here’s what Dr. Doherty has to say about that pain in your neck and the treatments that can relieve your discomfort.

What causes cervical arthritis?

Cervical arthritis is most often caused by a type of arthritis known as osteoarthritis, which is usually a result of the natural aging process.

Your presacral spine contains 24 bones (vertebrae) that stack one upon the other to form your spinal column. Discs are small, round, rubbery structures that act as cushions between the vertebrae.

The cervical (neck) portion of your spine contains seven vertebrae (C1-C7) and their accompanying discs, as well as pairs of tiny facet joints on either side of the C3-C7 vertebrae that facilitate movement of the spine.   

Often referred to as “wear-and-tear arthritis,” osteoarthritis is related to degenerative changes in the bones and cartilage that form your cervical spine. Degenerative changes in the cervical spine may also be caused by repetitive motion or overhead work, such as painting.

What are the degenerative changes associated with cervical osteoarthritis?

 Degenerative changes associated with osteoarthritis may include:

Disc dehydration

Spinal discs contain a gel-like inner core that’s surrounded by flexible, fibrous tissue. As you age, the discs dry out and shrink. This leads to more bone-on-bone contact between the vertebrae, which causes the bone to erode (degenerate) over time.

Disc herniation    

Also known as ruptured discs, a herniated disc occurs when the outer portion of the disc cracks and the softer inner core bulges through to the outside. This leakage of the disc contents can irritate and inflame nearby nerves running through the spinal canal.

Bone spurs

When your discs begin to degenerate, your spine often tries to restore strength to the damaged area by producing new bone tissue. These protrusions (bone spurs) can push against the spinal cord and irritate nerve roots.

Damage to ligaments

Ligaments are cords of tough, fibrous tissue that connect bone to bone. Your cervical ligaments can stiffen with age, which reduces flexibility in your neck and can lead to neck pain.

Nerve irritation and inflammation

When nerves are irritated, you can experience pain in the neck as well as discomfort and tingling that may travel down your shoulder and into your arm.

What is the treatment for arthritis in the neck?

Depending on the type, location, and extent of the degenerative changes, Dr. Doherty may recommend treatment that includes:

If conservative treatments fail, Dr. Doherty may recommend robot-assisted neck surgery to treat the underlying cause of your pain.

When neck pain is causing sleepless nights and otherwise disrupting your normal routine, schedule a visit at Yale Neurosurgery New London. We’re here to help. Call the office in New London, Connecticut, or request an appointment online.

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