Neck & Back Arthritis
Neck & Back Arthritis Overview
Arthritis is inflammation of the joint, which leads to pain. The forms of arthritis have their own pattern of symptoms and affects people in different ways. There are two major types of arthritis:Osteoarthritis
Sometimes called wear-and-tear arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is common form of arthritis in the neck and lower back.
- The onset of osteoarthritis is usually after age 50.
- Contributing factors include obesity, genetics and previous trauma.
- Symptoms include pain and limited of mobility.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs in people of all ages. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Chronic inflammation of the joint lining
- Secondary destruction of cartilage
- Stiffness, joint swelling, weakness of ligaments, pain, and a decrease of movement in the joint
The neck and back—also known as the spinal column—are made up of 33 bones called vertebrae that run from the base of the skull to the pelvis. The hollow vertebrae form a tube-like case to protect the spinal cord.
The breakdown of the cartilage of the facet joints, where the vertebrae join, causes the inflammation and pain associated with neck and back arthritis. Without the cushioning of the cartilage, movement of the vertebrae can cause irritation, further damage and the formation of bony outgrowths called spurs, which may cause pain by pressing on nerves.
The lower back is the most common site of arthritis back pain.
A number of factors interact to cause neck and back arthritis including a genetic predisposition to abnormal cartilage metabolism, major or minor repetitive injures and certain occupations. While being overweight does not necessarily cause arthritis, it certainly contributes to the symptoms of neck and back arthritis.
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Pain during and after moving neck or back
- Loss of flexibility
The causes of most types of arthritis are unknown, but genetic factors, injuries and your current lifestyle contribute. If you are overweight, it is a risk factor.
Neck & Back Arthritis Prevention
- Maintaining a healthy weight may slow the progression of neck and back osteoarthritis.
- An exercise program may help reduce pain and improve range of movement.
- Regular, moderate exercise offers many benefits to people with neck and back arthritis. In addition to reducing neck and back pain and stiffness, exercise builds strong muscle around the joints.
- Stretching is a simple way to keep joints and muscles flexible.
- Exercising in the water can be particularly effective to build strength and increase range of motion for those dealing with neck and back arthritis.
Reduce Your Risk of Neck & Back Arthritis
- Proper posture—knowing the right way to sit, stand, walk and lift—can help prevent back pain.
- Avoid excess body fat by balancing caloric intake with ample exercise
- Take steps to prevent injuries:
- Stretch and warm up before exercise. Cool down afterward.
- Don't overdo it
- Wear properly fitting shoes
- Avoid running on asphalt, concrete and other hard surfaces when possible
Tests and Screenings
- CT scan (computerized tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Discogram, a test used to view internal structure of a disc to determine if damage to the disc is a source of pain.
Neck & Back Arthritis Diagnosis
Neck and back arthritis pain varies greatly from person to person. The pain of neck and back arthritis may be the result of irritation caused by bone-on-bone rubbing of two or more vertebrae, or bone spurs created by such chronic irritation.
The first step in diagnosing neck and back pain is establishing a medical history. Your Wellstar physician will ask a series of questions that might include:
- Are your symptoms worse after activity or rest?
- Are there certain activities that make them worse—or better?
- How long have you been experiencing neck or back symptoms?
- Do any of your family members have arthritis or other back problems?
- Are you experiencing symptoms in any joints besides the neck or back?
- Do you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk?
Your Wellstar physician will do a physical examination to determine causes of pain and may ask you to move and bend to see if a certain position or activity is painful. The patient might undergo X-rays or other imaging procedures such as a CT scan (computerized tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to see how much joint damage has been done.
The doctor may also order lab tests if your symptoms and physical examination suggest rheumatoid arthritis or other causes of joint inflammation.
- CT scan (computerized tomography)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Neck & Back Arthritis Treatment
Treatment of arthritis will depend on the type of arthritis, its severity, and your overall health. A number of different Wellstar specialists might be involved in your arthritis care. The goal is to treat all aspects of arthritis pain, increase joint mobility and strength and help you learn to manage pain.
Conservative treatment is always attempted first. Weight loss may go a long way to reducing stress on the joint and easing pain. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Alleve®), physiotherapy, activity modification, ambulatory assistive devices, braces and corticosteroid injections are common conservative treatment options.
In its early stages, arthritis of the neck and back is treated with non-surgical measures:
- Lifestyle modifications can include losing weight, switching from running or jumping exercises to swimming or cycling, and minimizing activities that aggravate the condition, such as climbing stairs. Simple weight loss can reduce stress on weight bearing joints and result in reduced pain and increased function.
- Exercises can help increase range of motion and flexibility as well as help strengthen the muscles in the leg. Physical therapy and exercise are often effective in reducing pain and improving function. Your physician or a physical therapist can help develop an individualized exercise program that meets your needs and lifestyle.
- Supportive devices, such as braces and corsets, can be helpful for short-term back arthritis pain relief.
- Other measures may include applications of heat or ice, water exercises, liniments or elastic bandages. Warming tissues eases arthritis pain by increasing blood flow to affected areas. Cold packs or ice packs reduce swelling and slow the transmission of pain signals through nerves.
Surgery is an option when more conservative treatments for neck and back arthritis don’t ease pain and disability.
Your Wellstar physician may recommend surgery to enlarge the spinal column to relieve pressure on the nerve roots. In a laminectomy, surgeons remove the lamina, or the portion of the vertebrae that shields the spinal cord. Surgeons may also remove bone spurs, formed as a result of neck and back osteoarthritis.
Which Approach is Right for You?
We understand the thought of surgery can be overwhelming. That’s why your Wellstar physician will help you decide the course of treatment that’s right for you. The physician will help you weigh the benefits of each treatment approach. You can feel confident your decision will be based on both your input and the expertise and recommendations of your experienced physician
Ongoing Care for Neck & Back Arthritis
The pain and stiffness of neck and back arthritis can be eased through exercise and physical therapy. Regular exercise strengthens joint-supporting muscles and improves flexibility.
A physical therapist can suggest appropriate exercises to improve range of motion.
Aquatic therapy is an option if you have medication conditions that might limit traditional exercise. Your Wellstar physician may refer you to one of the aquatic therapy programs at the Wellstar Cobb, Wellstar Kennestone, Wellstar Windy Hill or Wellstar Physical Therapy locations.