Cervical Spine Arthritis.

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Arthritis and Back Pain


Quite often, arthritis of the Cervical spine is the cause neck and arm pain presentations that I see in my clinic, especially amongst the older age group. As we get older, the discs and joints in the back and neck slowly degenerate over time, and this can lead to neck shoulder and arm pain and other complications.

Main types of Cervical Spine (neck) Arthritis

There are two main types of cervical spine arthritis and we will go through each in turn. They are:

  1. Osteoarthritis - a degenerative condition affecting the quality of joint surfaces. It is most commonly age-related and develops over time. Quite often, bone spurs known as osteophytes may develop around the degenerating joint, and if these impinge on a nerve, it can be quite painful.

  2. Rheumatoid arthritis - is a systemic inflammatory disorder that mainly affects joints and tissues resulting in inflammation, movement reduction and deformities of the joints.

Both types of arthritis affect your neck in similar ways, generally by thickened tissues and osteophytes associated with the arthritis causing pain and restricting the movement of your neck. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to be quite severe in most cases where osteoarthritis varies from mild to severe depending on each individual.

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So what actually happens in arthritis of your neck?

The arthritic nodules and thickened tissues cause movement to be blocked in certain joints, in certain directions. If you try to move through this inflamed thickness it will hurt you, so your body’’s natural reaction is to avoid those movements, and over time this will lead to further movement loss and joint damage causing more pain. So you can see it is a vicious circle of pain reducing movement, and movement reduction potentially increasing pain.

How to diagnose and manage cervical spine arthritis

To diagnose your cervical spine arthritis you should have x-rays and blood tests taken by a qualified doctor. If the result shows rheumatoid arthritis you will probably require systemic medication to facilitate your management. You will be referred to a specialised doctor called a rheumatologist for this.

Once your pain has been managed through medication my advice is to start physiotherapy. Physiotherapy will help you maintain, and sometimes gain movement range as well as strengthening your neck and back muscles to help reduce the load on your neck joints. Believe me over time you will be glad you did this!

If it is osteoarthritis that you have, seek a chartered Physiotherapist who works in this area and start treatment immediately. Early treatment can help you enormously. We will work on your joint tightness, and help loosen it all up, which is the key to reducing the pain and increasing the movement. This will be followed by a home exercise programme that you can do daily to maintain the strengthen the muscles and help take some of the pressure from the joints, as well as keep movement in your neck. Regular physiotherapy sessions will also help maintain your arthritis levels. I usually see my osteoarthritis neck clients for 6 sessions twice yearly.

Learn more about Arthritis of the Neck

While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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