Neck arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in a person’s neck. Wear and tear of the spinal discs generally cause it, although there are different types with various treatment options.

Neck arthritis is very common in people over 60, with around 85% affected. Symptoms are usually treatable without surgery. People with the condition can continue to live a good quality of life with the right treatment plan.

This article explores the types of neck arthritis, its symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment. It will also cover things to avoid, when to speak with a doctor, and frequently asked questions.

A person's neck, which can experience different types of arthritis.Share on Pinterest
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If someone experiences persistent neck pain that does not improve with time, they may have neck arthritis.

We explore the different types of neck arthritis a person may experience below.

Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is the medical term for osteoarthritis that affects the neck’s spinal joints.

Osteoarthritis is a type of joint disease which causes joint tissues to break down over time. It is the most common type of arthritis affecting older adults and often affects the neck.

The cervical spine, the area supporting the neck, consists of seven small vertebrae that begin at the base of the skull. Intervertebral disks are in between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. As a person ages, the disks can begin to degenerate through wear and tear.

Learn more about the anatomy of the back.

Disks may weaken and lose height, increasing pressure on the vertebrae. The cartilage that covers them wears away, as a result, which can cause friction between the bones and breakage.

A person may feel stiffness and pain in their neck or lower back due to these changes.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of a person’s joints. This causes inflammation.

RA often affects the cervical spine and can cause instability and neck pain.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis in the neck.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is another autoimmune form of arthritis.

It often occurs with the skin condition, psoriasis, and causes joint inflammation. This condition often involves the neck and other spinal areas.

Symptoms of arthritis in the neck can vary. People with neck arthritis mostly experience few to no symptoms. If someone does experience symptoms, they can vary in severity.

Symptoms of any neck arthritis can include:

Different activities can worsen the severity of symptoms. For example, activities, such as driving, where the neck is in the same position for a long period, may increase neck stiffness.

Somebody with advanced arthritis may experience secondary symptoms:

  • Radiculopathy: A part of the spinal cord is put under pressure, causing pain and numbness through the extremities.
  • Myelopathy: Long-term compression of spinal cord regions causes pain and weakness in the affected area.

Age is the most common risk factor for developing cervical spondylosis.

Some other risk factors can include:

  • genetics, some types have familial links
  • smoking
  • repetitive movements, such as with certain jobs
  • depression and anxiety
  • neck trauma

Healthcare professionals may ask for a medical history when diagnosing neck arthritis. A doctor may ask people to describe their symptoms, for example, when they first notice symptoms occurring.

They may also carry out physical examinations. These help determine how severe someone’s condition is. A doctor may examine a person’s walk to check for any radiculopathy symptoms.

If a person has advanced symptoms, imaging tests may be necessary to determine the location of arthritis in the neck, including:

Most people with arthritis in their neck will require nonsurgical treatment methods, depending on the type of arthritis.

Typically, treatment involves resting the neck and preventing strain. Ice and heat pads can help relieve pain and stiffness.

Other nonsurgical methods include:

Doctors do not typically recommend surgery unless a person’s symptoms are severe, such as if a person is experiencing myelopathy.

A 2019 analysis of the efficacy of surgery for myelopathy in 110 patients found that posterior cervical laminectomy offered some clinical improvement to their condition. Posterior cervical laminectomy is a surgical procedure that aims to decompress the spine.

Managing symptoms

There are several activities and things a person can do to manage their symptoms at home:

  • Physical therapy: This can strengthen weak muscles in the neck and help improve a person’s range of motion.
  • Light exercise: Inactivity can increase stiffness. Walking, swimming, or cycling can all improve strength.
  • Using the correct pillow: A supportive pillow can help ease neck pain when sleeping. A firmer pillow is suitable for back sleepers. However, a medium pillow is better for side sleepers. A cylinder shape pillow that sits in the space between the neck and mattress can also help.

There are several things somebody with neck arthritis should try to avoid:

  • Smoking: This prevents the effectiveness of certain medications.
  • Improper computer stance: It is important to ensure a chair supports the back and neck while sitting at a desk for long periods.
  • Poor posture: A person should practice good posture and try not to slouch.

Learn more about exercises and tips to improve posture.

If neck pain is persistent, it is important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.

They can examine the neck to find the cause of the pain and create a treatment plan to reduce symptoms.

There are different types of neck arthritis, with the most common being cervical spondylosis. This is extremely common in people over 60 and age-related degeneration of the spinal bones supporting the neck causes it.

Symptoms can include pain and stiffness in the neck, and there is a range of treatments available, depending on the cause of arthritis.

Healthcare professionals may recommend nonsurgical treatments, such as pain medications and physical therapy. Doctors will usually only recommend surgery for people experiencing severe symptoms.

People can manage their symptoms at home by staying active and doing physical therapy. Anyone concerned about persistent neck pain and stiffness should speak with a healthcare professional.