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Osteoarthritis and Neck Pain
Osteoarthritis and Neck Pain

Osteoarthritis in the neck, also known as cervical spondylosis, is common as people age.  It’s estimated that 85% of people over age 60 are affected.  Many people begin to experience symptoms in middle age, although their symptoms may initially be mild.  While some of those are able to maintain an active lifestyle, others may deal with chronic pain and stiffness.

What causes osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the result of wear and tear on the spinal vertebrae and joints over time.  The changes can cause compression of the nerve roots, which leads to pain.  The spinal discs, which are the cushions between vertebrae, also dry out and become stiffer.  Osteophytes, or bone spurs, may develop on the cervical vertebrae.  This could potentially result in a narrowing of the spinal canal.  Osteoarthritis may also develop in people who have suffered a previous neck injury or trauma.

Symptoms of Cervical Osteoarthritis

The most noticeable symptoms are neck pain and stiffness.  This may feel worse first thing in the morning but may improve as the person moves around during the day.  There may be some difficulty turning the head from side to side or bending the neck.  Some people experience a headache that seems to originate in the neck or the back of the head.  There may be pain that radiates to the shoulder, arms, or between the shoulder blades.  If a bone spur compresses a nerve root, there may be pain, tingling, or numbness that radiates down the arm into the hand.  Not all people will experience all symptoms.

How is cervical osteoarthritis diagnosed?

The physician will conduct a thorough physical examination including range of motion in the neck, as well as reflexes and strength in the arms and hands.  Imaging tests often include x-rays.  An MRI can help determine whether any nerve roots are compressed.


Pain symptoms are often treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.  Muscle relaxers can help relieve muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder area.  Sometimes steroid injections are helpful.

Physical therapy may be recommended.  The patient can learn exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles in the neck and shoulders.  If nerve roots are compressed, neck traction may give pain relief by providing more space between the vertebrae.  If neurological symptoms are severe, a surgeon may remove bone spurs or a herniated disc.

Atlanta Brain and Spine Care

Our neurosurgeons offer patients access to some of the world’s most advanced treatments and procedures in five convenient metro Atlanta locations.  Contact us to schedule a consultation with our specialists.   

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