Is your neck pain a result of poor posture, or could it be a sign of a deeper issue?
Working from home, as many of us are doing right now, takes some adjusting, but brings with it some benefits. More sleep, no commutes, casual Friday every day… it can be fun. But, as many people are learning, working from home can also be a pain in the neck, literally and figuratively.
Did you know that the average human head weighs about 11 to 12 pounds! Think about that, we’re sitting at our desks, all day, holding the weight of a bowling ball on our shoulders. Except, now, in many cases, we’re not at our desks. We’re working in a home office, at the dinner table, in a recliner, or on the couch. For many people, this means shifts in posture to accommodate a computer monitor or a smaller screen that is in a different position than which we’re accustomed. And, when you add in virtual conferencing, that takes these changes to another level entirely. We find ourselves constantly shifting, stretching, slouching, or bobbing our heads around trying to find the best position in the video frame.
With these changes in work routine and posture, as well as the added stress of life in these times, it’s no wonder more people are complaining of neck pain. And one of the most common causes of neck pain is cervical spondylosis, also known as cervical osteoarthritis, or, simply, “neck arthritis.”
Could your neck pain be cervical spondylosis?
Cervical osteoarthritis develops over time, as use and repetitive stress wear away the bone, cartilage, and other soft tissue in the cervical (upper) part of your spine. For many people, this process begins in their 40s, and, by the time they are 60 or older, 9 out of 10 people show effects of the condition. For many, that means an occasional sharp pain or dull ache, maybe some temporary numbness in the arms and hands. However, cervical spondylosis, when left untreated, may lead to one or more serious medical conditions.
Age-related wear and tear is not the only factor that may exacerbate cervical osteoarthritis. There are several risk factors which may cause the condition, including neck injuries, holding your head in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time, repetitive stress, smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity.
If you have any of these risk factors, and you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from cervical spondylosis:
Chronic and/or severe neck pain and stiffness
Pain around the shoulder blade and down the arm
Shoulder and arm pain that worsens when sitting or tilting your head
Chronic or recurring headaches
Tingling or numbness in the shoulders and arms
Left untreated, these symptoms for cervical osteoarthritis may lead to several different painful conditions including:
Degenerative spinal discs
Herniated spinal discs
Facet joint inflammation
And, in some more advanced cases, cervical spondylosis may lead to loss of balance or bladder and bowel control. If you are experiencing these symptoms of a more advanced condition, seek immediate medical attention.
Treatments for cervical osteoarthritis
Fortunately for many patients, nonsurgical treatment options have proven to be very effective at providing relief for symptoms of cervical spondylosis. These treatments allow people to live without significant or chronic pain while reducing the risks of permanent damage to the cervical spine.
Physical therapy which focuses on stretching to improve strength and flexibility in the neck and shoulders, is often effective in the treatment of minor symptoms related to cervical osteoarthritis. When the muscles in and around the neck are stronger, and the soft tissue is more flexible, the neck is better able to manage the weight of the head, leading to less wear and tear in and around the cervical vertebrae.
Certain medications may also be effective at treating symptoms associated with cervical spondylosis. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen are commonly prescribed. If these are ineffective, muscle relaxants including cyclobenzaprine or narcotics such as hydrocodone may work. If the condition has caused nerve damage, leading to pain, anti-epileptic drugs such as gabapentin may be beneficial. Steroid injections may also offer temporary relief of pain caused by inflammation.
Is surgery the best solution for cervical spondylosis?
In the majority of cases, surgery is not necessary to treat cervical osteoarthritis. However, if you have tried the treatments, including those listed above, and you are still experiencing neck pain, you may have been told that your condition is so advanced that “surgery is the only option.” Common surgical goals include removing bone spurs or any other damaged tissue that may be putting pressure on spinal nerves. And, in more advanced cases, doctors may recommend spinal fusion surgery.
While these surgical treatments may be successful in reducing pain and other symptoms of neck osteoarthritis, all surgical intervention comes with inherent risks as well as the potential for serious side-effects. Because of these risks, Dr. Skaliy recommends patients consider minimally-invasive treatments before choosing surgery. Depending on your symptoms or situation, he may recommend any of the following to relieve severe or chronic neck pain:
Epidural steroid injections
Radio frequency ablation
Facet Joint Injections
Each of these minimally-invasive treatments has been proven to effectively treat pain and reduce the inflammation which can lead to further joint damage or disc degeneration. Whatever treatment is the best for your situation, the primary goal of any treatment for cervical spondylosis is to reduce neck stiffness and discomfort, so you can enjoy an active, pain-free lifestyle.
So, if neck, back, or joint pain is affecting your quality of life, click here or call (770) 844-3242 for an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Skaliy to see which treatment options may be right for you.