Arthritic changes of the neck vertebrae are a common MRI finding that may cause concern with those diagnosed with neck pain. In fact, thousands of Americans are diagnosed with neck arthritis every year. However, more and more research is showing that many of these changes should be considered a normal any are not completely responsible for why a person hurts.
Neck arthritis is often diagnosed following an MRI in the presence of neck pain. A person is pain may choose to consult with a physician. X-rays and/or MRI’s might be ordered as part of the diagnostic process. An image is taken which may reveal age related changes. The patient is then given the diagnosis of arthritis of the cervical spine.
However, images can be misleading. There have been many studies that show that these type of findings have a very poor correlation with pain. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Arthritis is present in very high percentages of healthy people with no problem at all. Many of these changes found on images are part of normal aging and are NOT associated with pain.
Pain is complex and is influenced by more than what is happening on a structural level. In the presence of neck pain, we may find tension, trigger points (knots), and tightness of neck and shoulder muscles. In addition, stiffness of the upper back may be present. Weakness of the core and postural muscles can be problematic as well. In many cases, proper movement needs to be taught (e.g. how to engage the lats, serratus anterior, and rotator cuff) to help offload irritated neck muscles. However, the only way to know what may be contributing to neck pain is to perform a thorough assessment.
After an assessment, our approach includes hands-on therapy to alleviate pain. This might include dry needling, soft tissue mobilization, or gentle hands-on movement the neck vertebrae. We also may move the bones in the upper back to reduce pain if these regions were found to be stiff or painful.
Pain and poor mobility often go together. If we can alleviate pain and reduce stiffness and tension through the region, mobility often improves. The next step is to perform specific exercises so the pain and mobility improvements hold. The exercises often target the muscles of the spine, core, and shoulders.
Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is developing strength and durability with load. When performed with good technique, rows, pushups, Turkish Get-Ups, and other “pushing and pulling” movements can develop strength of the upper body and prevent injury down the road.
When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, overcoming neck arthritis is possible. Ignoring symptoms, on the other hand, may lead to pain that simply does not go away. If you have neck pain and have been told you have arthritis, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.
We have a free guide on relieving neck and shoulder pain that can give you further insight into neck problems and help kickstart your recovery. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.
If your concerns warrant an in-person consultation, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits at our office. This type of appointment of for those who are interested in working with us. It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your neck pain and develop confidence that we can help you.
If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can inquire about cost and availability and get the process started.
If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next step should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.