Just as the degeneration of joints in the lower spine can result in lumbar arthritis, degeneration of the facet joints in the upper (cervical) spine can lead to cervical arthritis. This condition is also called cervical spondylosis, cervical osteoarthritis, or degenerative neck disease (DND). Whatever you call it, it’s…literally…a pain in the neck. Cervical arthritis is caused by wear and tear at the intersection of the cervical spinal discs and the facet joint that connects them to the rest of the spine. This wear and tear may be caused by aging, or by excessive pressure being placed on the discs and facet joint by poor posture or injury. Most cases of cervical osteoarthritis occur in individuals aged 55 or older, but can also affect younger people. Left untreated, the spinal discs and the facet joint can continue to deteriorate, becoming dry, brittle and cracked, and possibly cause the vertebrae to compress against, which can lead to pinched nerves.
The symptoms of cervical arthritis include pain and stiffness in the neck, and possible feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness. The pain may be felt to radiate to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades, and may include headaches, especially in the back of the head. The stiffness may be worse in the early morning, and then improve as you move around; the pain tends to be worse towards the end of the day. As with many degenerative diseases, there is no absolute cure for cervical arthritis because the damage – caused over time by aging – cannot be reversed. For this reason, neither prescription nor over-the-counter medications can reverse the degeneration; medical doctors tend to treat the condition with anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, and in some cases direct injection of corticosteroids.
Chiropractors are also trained to diagnose and treat cervical arthritis, but in their case the treatment is more holistic. Chiropractors are most concerned with proper function and motion of the spinal joints and the soft tissues that surround them. Their primary form of treatment is spinal manipulation or adjustments, to improve mobility and restore a normal range of motion not only to the cervical joints, but also to the entire spine. After a thorough examination to determine the exact causes of your condition, your chiropractor may prescribe a series of adjustments to correct imbalances in the spine and joints that may have caused the wear and tear in the first place, and which may be perpetuating it.
Many chiropractors also use a number of related therapies such as therapeutic massage, ultrasound, electrical stimulation (which alternately stimulates and relaxes muscles to help them loosen up), and gentle stretching exercises to treat the muscles surrounding the neck joints, which may be contributing to its improper function. While chiropractic treatment may not be appropriate in every case, for many these treatments can decrease and even eliminate the pain of cervical arthritis.