As one of the most prevalent chronic musculoskeletal diseases in the world, osteoarthritis is a common cause of chronic neck pain. This condition usually affects the joints in the hands, knees, hips, and spine, leading to deformity, swelling, and impaired mobility and function, in addition to causing pain.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is most common in those over the age of 40 as it is a disease caused by wear and tear. As such, minimising the risk of developing osteoarthritis when older relies largely on looking after your joints when young. Around 10% of men and 20% of women over the age of 60 have symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) which makes it a particularly big problem for countries like the US which have an ageing population.
OA in the knees is present in just under half of those over 80 years old and a loss of mobility and resulting sedentary lifestyle in such patients can predispose sufferers to other diseases and conditions such as metabolic syndrome. Some of the underlying factors involved in OA may also predispose people to such conditions, however, such as inflammation, stress, and poor sleep patterns.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Joint pain is the primary symptom of osteoarthritis prompting most people to bring the condition to their physician’s attention. Other signs of osteoarthritis include joint stiffness upon waking and reduced joint function. Your physician will carry out a physical assessment before diagnosing cervical spinal arthritis in order to note crepitus (joint popping or cracking sounds), to see how restricted your neck mobility has become, and to detect any obvious bony deformities in the cervical spine.
Neck Pain and Osteoarthritis
Sometimes the degree of structural deformity or tissue damage seen on imaging such as through X-Rays, does not correspond to reported pain levels, which made researchers suspicious of an additional component to OA pain involving the central nervous system.
While it’s never great to be confused about the exact cause of chronic pain, it can be helpful in the sense that new questions can be asked and new treatments designed to relieve such pain. It may be that rather than simply trying to directly address the site of the tissue deterioration, such as in joints of the neck, patients and their physicians can work together to look at the overall pain picture and reduce central sensitisation to pain in the neck.
Reducing Progression of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is insidious and progressive, so it is important that efforts are made to slow down joint deterioration and protect spinal health, as well as to attend to primary pain issues. Some pain medications, such as NSAIDs, can actually increase bone resorption, while corticosteroids appear to weaken bones and have deleterious effects on joint health over time, making these potentially unsuitable for long-term use by those with chronic spine problems connected to joint degeneration.
Anyone diagnosed with osteoarthritis and who smokes is advised to make a concerted effort to quit the habit immediately. Chemicals in the smoke affect the rate at which bone heals and can predispose us to abnormal bone growth, cancer, and higher levels of inflammation and tissue damage resulting in increased neck pain from osteoarthritis. Smoking may also prevent you from being a good surgical candidate should you need spinal surgery at a later date and reduce your synthesis of collagen, a structural protein that is essential for healthy joints and for healing.
Treating Osteoarthritis Neck Pain
Living with chronic neck pain from osteoarthritis can be very stressful and so many patients find that counselling and education, alongside physical therapy and analgesic medications, are helpful in managing symptoms. Acupuncture and acupressure may also be useful, and the gate control theory of pain relief may also be helpful to some patients. Newer research also suggests that the use of duloxetine, an antidepressant drug, may help with pain management in osteoarthritis and interested patients should discuss such therapy to help relieve neck pain with their physician.