Your neck is a remarkable structure of strength and flexibility. It supports the weight of your head and allows it to swivel side-to-side, move in a circular motion, and nod up and down. However, if you have neck arthritis, each one of those movements can be a struggle. How Will I Know If I Have Neck Arthritis? Like arthritis in other joints, the main symptoms of neck arthritis are pain and stiffness. These symptoms may get worse when you keep your neck in one position for a long time. For example, you may notice more severe symptoms after holding your neck still while looking up at a movie screen, looking down to read a book, or staring straight ahead to drive long distances. Your neck consists of the upper part of your spine, also called your cervical spine. It runs from the top of your torso to the base of your skull. If you have neck arthritis, you may notice headaches or pains in your shoulders because your neck connects these areas. Neck muscle spasms are also common, as are popping and grinding sounds. The bones, or vertebrae, in your neck protect your spinal cord and spinal nerves. With neck arthritis, you can develop pressure on your spinal cord and pinched nerves. If this happens, you may notice weakness and numbness in your arms, hands, legs and feet. This can lead to problems walking and keeping your balance. You will most likely need a doctor to diagnose you with neck arthritis. To diagnose neck arthritis, your doctor may use the following exams and tests: Complete physical exam Blood tests and other lab tests X-rays, MRIs or CT imaging exams Myelography, which is a special type of X-ray with a dye to look at your spinal canal and your spinal nerves Electromyography, which tests for nerve damage or pinched nerves Are There Different Types of Neck Arthritis? The most common type of neck arthritis is called cervical spondylosis, which is a form of osteoarthritis (OA). It develops as you age and your vertebrae degenerate and weaken. The spongy spinal discs that lie in between each vertebra also weaken and dry out with age causing your disc space to collapse. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause neck arthritis. Usually, RA affects smaller joints in your extremities and is a far less common cause of neck arthritis. However, when it does occur in your neck, RA tends to cause severe pain and stiffness, particularly in your upper neck. Who Gets Neck Arthritis? Age is the major risk factor for neck arthritis. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that more than 85% of people older than 60 have some degree of cervical spondylosis (Source: AAOS). The following factors increase your risk of developing neck arthritis: Overweight or obesity Past neck injury or surgery Repeated heavy lifting and overhead work Osteoporosis (weak and thin bones) Ruptured or slipped spinal disc Smoking What Can Be Done to Remedy Neck Arthritis? You may not be able to eliminate pain and stiffness in your neck. The goal is to improve your symptoms and learn how to rest your neck to let it recover. Treatment for neck arthritis will depend on whether or not your spinal cord is compressed. If you don’t have spinal cord compression, your doctor may recommend the following: Soft neck collar to rest your neck muscles Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to relieve pain, inflammation and swelling Muscle relaxants to relieve painful muscle spasms Physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch weak or tight neck muscles and improve flexibility Topical therapy including neck massage and ice and heat treatments to relieve pain, inflammation and swelling Injections of steroids and painkillersto relieve pain, inflammation and swelling Despite your best efforts to keep your arthritis from getting worse, it’s possible that you may need surgery if your spinal cord is compressed and you have symptoms that are not improving, such as weakness or numbness. You can work with your doctor in making this decision.