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What is Neck Arthritis? – Symptoms, Causes, Types & Treatment

Neck Arthritis

Arthritis In The Neck - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

  • Arthritis is a widespread condition affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
  • Generally, arthritis results from the normal wear and tear occurring with age, but sometimes there can be complicated immune system factors contributing to the condition.
  • Although usually arthritis affects the knees, hips, elbows, and fingers, there is neck arthritis too that can be very painful and irritating.
  • Common neck arthritis causes are degenerative processes in the joints, vertebrae, and discs, which result from the normal wear and tear that comes with age.
  • Furthermore, there are several distinct types of the condition with slightly varying neck arthritis symptoms.
  • With the rapid advances in medicine, doctors can use many medications and strategies to fight the condition and relieve your symptoms.


Although there can be numerous causes for chronic neck pain, when stiffness and soreness start persisting for long periods, arthritis in the neck becomes a common diagnosis. Most people above 60 usually have some form of arthritis, with the neck becoming an increasingly more prevalent location.

Read on to learn more about the condition itself, causes, types, and neck arthritis treatment options.

What is Neck Arthritis?

Cervical spondylosis or arthritis in the neck refers to degenerative changes in the discs and joints in the neck typically occurring with age. Statistics show that more than 85 percent of the people above 60 will have the condition at one point or another.

It can lead to decreased mobility, popping noises when turning, chronic joint pain, muscle spasms, hand and leg weakness, loss of balance, and headaches.

Nevertheless, arthritis in the neck usually responds very well to the different medications and physical therapy, and patients can get back to practicing their favorite everyday activities.

The Types of Neck Arthritis

Types of Neck Arthritis

There are three predominant forms of arthritis in the neck that have different causes, mechanisms, and slightly varying symptoms.

  • Osteoarthritis in the NeckOsteoarthritis in the neck refers to the degeneration of structures in the spinal column typically occurring with age.

    With time, the vertebrae progressively lose the padding between them, which causes friction. The latter can lead to the breaking off of tiny bone fragments or enhanced growth of shart bony structures called osteophytes.

    Ultimately, in this type, neck arthritis symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, and inflammation that worsens with physical activity.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Neck – Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, meaning that the body mistakenly attacks the tissues. Usually, the changes predominantly affect the small joints in the hands and feet, but they can also cause arthritis in the neck.
  • Spondyloarthritis – Spondyloarthritis is an umbrella term for psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Both of these neck arthritis causes are autoimmune disorders presenting with chronic joint inflammation.

    Psoriatic arthritis comes with psoriasis – an autoimmune inflammation of the skin presenting with red, itchy, and scaly patches.

    On the other hand, ankylosing spondylitis affects the whole spinal column and the pelvis.

What are the Causes of Neck Arthritis?

The most common neck arthritis causes are the degenerative processes in the joints, vertebrae, and discs resulting from the normal wear and tear that comes with age. Additionally, the disks start losing water content, tightening the disk spaces and causing friction between the separate vertebrae.

For the autoimmune types of arthritis, there are no specific causes, but instead, we distinguish several risk factors, including genetics, smoking, occupation, and previous injuries to the neck.

What are the Neck Arthritis Symptoms?

Despite having the condition, in the beginning, many people don’t experience neck arthritis symptoms at all. When they occur, they include mild to severe neck pain and stiffness because of chronic inflammation.

Also, the formation of osteophytes can slightly impair blood circulation to the brain and cause constant headaches. Sometimes if the nerve roots become affected, patients can experience numbness and weakness in the extremities and loss of balance.

In rheumatoid arthritis of the neck, symptoms are worse in the morning and get better with activity, whereas osteoarthritis neck pain exacerbates with activity.

What are the Treatments for Neck Arthritis?

Treatments for Neck Arthritis

Neck arthritis treatment usually involves over-the-counter NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and analgesics to relieve pain and inflammation. Nevertheless, always consult with a doctor about your therapy as these drugs can also have side effects and interactions with other medications.

For treating autoimmune arthritis, we use disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, leflunomide, and sulfasalazine. Their goal is to modulate the immune system activity to control inflammation and its related symptoms and slow down the disease progression.

In some cases, your doctor can recommend visiting a physiotherapist[1] to perform specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the neck and increase flexibility and range of motion.


With osteoarthritis of the neck, patients usually respond well to conservative neck arthritis treatment, and neck pain and discomfort gradually improve over 1 to 3 months.

With rheumatoid arthritis, however, the condition tends to get worse with time, and that’s why it’s crucial to look for a quick diagnosis and adequate treatment to slow down its progression.

Nonetheless, most patients respond very well to neck arthritis treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and significantly reduce their pain and stiffness.

Headaches can become one of the most prominent neck arthritis symptoms in the later stages because of the formation of osteophytes and narrowing of the intervertebral spaces. These changes hinder blood circulation to the brain and its supply of oxygen.

Ultimately, some patients can experience dizziness, blackouts, and constant headaches that often don’t go away with NSAIDs.

Patients with arthritis in the neck describe the condition as one with usually constant chronic pain that leads to stiffness and decreased mobility. Some patients complain of popping or grinding sounds in the neck when moving. Some people experience muscle spasms, numbness, and weakness in the arms and legs.

Final Words

Arthritis in the neck is an exceedingly common condition, especially among people above 60.

Luckily, doctors have developed various neck arthritis treatment strategies consisting of different medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. Most patients respond very well to treatment and experience a relief of symptoms in one to three months.

Keep in mind to never attempt to self-diagnose and treat as this can have serious consequences. If you’re experiencing neck arthritis symptoms, always pay a visit to your doctor.

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