Arthritis of the Neck

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Neck Pain


Neck Pain and Arthritis
Manage neck pain from arthritis in the neck

Arthritis of the neck (and related neck and back pain) may be categorised as one of two types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis. These two types of arthritis share some similar characteristics, but each has different causes and different treatment methods. So an accurate diagnosis is important.

What are the main symptoms and treatments for Arthritis of the neck? Well, let’s look at each of the above types in turn.

Osteoarthritis and neck pain

Osteoarthritis is usually a natural part of the aging process. Most of us will have some amount of wear and tear in our neck by time we reach our fourties. Osteoarthritis in the neck typically occurs due to degeneration in the facet joints of the cervical spine. For most people the symptoms are joint pain and stiffness and depending on its severity, pain levels can range from mild to very severe in intensity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and neck pain

Less common than Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis a systemic inflammatory arthritis, in other words, it causes inflammation in your joints and can be very painful indeed. It is not a natural part of the aging process. It is a medical condition in itself where the cause is unclear - but it does appear to be hereditary. The condition generally requires drug treatments as well as manual therapy. Thickening around the joint surfaces can result in nodules of hardened tissue around your joints, which can affect your movement.

Symptoms and prevention of Neck Arthritis

The symptoms of neck arthritis are usually pain and stiffness over one or both sides of the neck and upper back. Symptoms relating to arthritis are usually worse in the morning. They loosen out with movement generally.

Although we cannot cure, or reverse, arthritis - physiotherapy can always help you in the management of the symptoms. In many cases of osteoarthritis treatment can also prevent the condition from worsening. Never just acccept arthritis - help yourself by managing it!

Treatment generally involves pain management and mobilisation to improve the movement in the affected joint, along with muscle strengthening exercises to help support and unload the weight on the affected joint surfaces. In rheumatoid arthritis and severe osteoarthritis anti-inflammatory medications may be required intermittently to control the degenerative process as well as the pain. Your rheumatologist will advise you on this.

Early detection and intervention is always best with managing arthritis of the neck. If you deal with it early, you can help prevent the condition degenerating. Prevention of neck arthritis involves:

  1. Eating well over your lifetime.
  2. Avoiding neck injuries.
  3. Treating neck injuries manually as they arise. A chartered physiotherapist is my choice here.
  4. Good posture.
  5. Keeping fit.
  6. Good genes!!

Jessie’s Story

Let me tell you about Jessie (not her real name!) - who came to me last year with arthritis in her neck. Jessie is in her sixties and had been suffering with neck and head pain for about 16 years. She was diagnosed with neck arthritis by her doctor when she was 45 years of age and was told that she would have to live with the pain and stiffness as it was “just part of the aging process”.

So, being the compliant lady that she is she did just that!

As the years went on, her pain and stiffness appeared to worsen and Jessie attended a local voluntary support group for people suffering with arthritis. Jessie was amazed at what could be done to make arthritis easier to live with. Understandably, she was annoyed that she had not been aware of this group at the earlier stage of her arthritis. It was as a result of this meeting that Jessie referred herself for physiotherapy.

Jessie did have a moderate amount of arthritis and her movement was very stiff. This was both as a result of the arthritis itself as well as the protective mechanism Jessie had developed by not moving her neck due to pain. This resulted in further stiffness.

We mobilised her neck, taught her exercises to do at home and corrected her posture. Within three months she had twice the movement she had previously and a huge reduction in pain. I really enjoyed working with Jessie - and we achieved some great results together. Once we had achieved this excellent response to treatment I advised Jessie on home management using heat and exercises. I also encouraged her to attend my clinic once a month for physiotherapy and exercises in order to keep her neck arthritis under control. Jessie has been doing that for ten months now and continues to manage well.

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Resources for Arthritis

  • The Arthritis Foundation: The Arthritis Foundation provides a really helpful website full of information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. They also publish ‘Arthritis Today’, the award-winning magazine that reaches 4.2 million readers

  • Arthritis Research UK A UK based charity that researches the preventing and finding a cure for arthritis, as we’ll as funding research into the lives of those with arthritis.

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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