Cervical Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Cervical Osteoarthritis or Cervical Arthritis is a condition when the bones in the neck region begin to degenerate and result in stiffness and pain in the neck region. This is also called Cervical Spondylosis. This condition occurs when the protective cover of cartilage in the bones begins to wear and corrode due to various reasons, the bones begin to create friction, which causes pain and stiffness in the neck.

It can be treated with medical and physiotherapy interventions. Read on more to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for Cervical Osteoarthritis.

Affected Spine Components by Cervical Osteoarthritis

Cervical Osteoarthritis of cervical spine occurs when there is damage to the c1-c7 spine. The cartilage around the bones with the synovial fluid that assists in the free and pain-free movement of the joint is impacted, resulting in stiffness and pain. The friction between the two bones increases, and parts of the bones can even begin to chip off, causing pain in the region. Bones in the upper part of the neck, near the shoulder, are more prone to Cervical Osteoarthritis.

This is also known as the facet joint (zygapophysial joints) comprises hard yet smooth cartilage on the upper and lower articulating surfaces to protect the back part of vertebral bones. When this joint reduces its function is when the condition worsens.

Cervical Osteoarthritis Causes

With most bone-related injuries and medical conditions, there are several factors in play for the condition. In the case of  Cervical Osteoarthritis, there are several that are mentioned below.

Genetics play an important role and if there has been a history of osteoarthritis in the family, there are possibilities of it being transferred to generations due to bone health conditions and other risk factors for the same.

Physical injury is also an important cause and it can create tension in the joints and result in the severing of the cartilage and result in damage to the bones in the neck region.

Poor nutrition intake and dietary habits can also cause the condition as it does not allow the bones to heal or grow properly. A lack of vitamins and minerals can result in poor bone density and bone health.

Poor body posture, long hours of work that involves little to no movement, or too much movement and pressure on the neck region can also create the bones to deteriorate and result in the condition.

Cervical Osteoarthritis Symptoms

One of the most common cervical arthritis symptoms is stiffness and pain in the neck region. This means pain while engaging the head in day-to-day activities, difficulty in waking up or resting the neck, unable to carry objects around, and inability to stay in one place for long periods of time.

Other symptoms include pain in the back and shoulder regions, headaches and sometimes there can be a pain in the lower back and legs, due to the intensity of the pain and resulting in interference with nerves that are responsible for senses in the back and legs.

If the condition worsens, symptoms can include lack of control over bowel movements, difficulty in walking, and numbness in the back, neck, arms, and feet.

Cervical Osteoarthritis Diagnosis

As in most cases of forms of osteoarthritis, the doctor may conduct physical examinations of the neck and back region. This can include simple rotation and flexion exercises to understand the intensity of the pain and discomfort. 

This can be followed by blood tests to understand the condition and any other underlying medical concerns such as arthritis, blood sugar levels, vitamin levels, and calcium levels. This will help the doctors understand what will be the best diagnosis and subsequently a treatment plan.

Imaging such as X-ray scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging can be performed to locate the injury and its extent of it. It will also help understand tissue and cartilage damage and suggest the best treatment possible. You may even be suggested to a neurologist to ensure that there is no damage to the nerves in the region.

Cervical Osteoarthritis Treatment

There are several ways of treating Cervical Osteoarthritis. One of the most common osteoarthritis cervical spine treatments is rest and anti-inflammatory medication. This allows the pain to reduce in the region and helps improve movement. Any tissue or muscle injury can also be reduced with medication and improved movement.

Medication for calcium and other vitamin and mineral supplements can also be prescribed based on the condition and needs of the patient.

Other forms of treatment can be braces and immobilizers for the neck can also help reduce pain as it reduces movement and allows the bones to recover. It can also improve posture. In extreme cases, surgery may be performed to reduce stress on the bones and nerves. If there is broken cartilage, it may be removed to improve movement and reduce pain.

In most cases, rest and cold and heat therapy can improve the condition. It is also important to have a better diet that allows the bones to heal and provides nutrition. Food rich in vitamins and minerals can help fasten the healing process. It is also advisable to not engage in strenuous physical activities to allow the bones to heal.

Physiotherapy for Cervical Osteoarthritis

Exercises that include mobilization,  strengthening, and stretching can help improve posture, reduce pain, and aid in the healing process. Mobilization or gentle pressure on the muscles and the bones can reduce pain and improve circulation in the region which can help reduce stiffness in the region.

Heat and cold therapy can also help reduce inflammation and improve blood circulation which can help reduce pain and provide relief.

Hydrotherapy where one engages in exercise in a controlled environment such as a pool can improve movement and reduce pain while engaging the body in movements. The gentle pressure of the water can also improve blood circulation and provide soothing comfort.

Exercises such as neck rotation, shoulder stretches, arm stretches, arm rotations, and head rotations can help reduce stiffness in the region and improve mobility.However, this needs to be done under a medical professional's suggestion as incorrect practice can increase damage to the bones.

A Note of Advice

Cervical Osteoarthritis is a condition that results in neck stiffness and reduced mobility in the neck and upper back region due to damage to the cartilage that ensures smooth movement of the neck. This can be a degenerative illness and can worsen over time if not treated well. Medication, rest, physical therapy, and changes to lifestyle, and diet can improve the condition and restore normal functioning in the region.

Physiotherapy is effective for the treatment of cervical osteoarthritis as it can gently heal the bones and ensure mobility and improved posture.