Cervical arthritis/spondylosis, also called C-spine arthritis, is an osteoarthritic condition that affects the upper spine. It happens when the cartilage in the cervical vertebrae begins to grow thinner and wear away because of an accident or because of the natural aging process. The facets of the vertebrae, those portions that interlock with each other to form the joints in the structure of the spine may the first to show the natural effects of wear and tear. This condition is often accompanied by degeneration in the flexible disks of the shock-absorbing cartilage that fit between the vertebrae. Bony ridges, called osteophytes, often develop on the vertebrae as a result of arthritis that further reduce the space available for the spinal cord and limit the movements that the neck can execute. In the process, the nerves become inflamed, causing neck pain that may radiate to the arms.
C-Spine arthritis usually appears between the ages of 30 and 50 as part of the normal aging process, with the condition growing worse as one gets older. By 50 years old, nearly everyone will experience some degree of wear and tear in the cervical spine. However, not everyone with manifest or develop the symptoms of c-spine arthritis. The symptoms may appear after a minor injury to the spine, such as one caused by a fall or sudden twisting of the spine. Young people may also develop C-spine arthritis because of a back injury from a sport-related accident like falling from a horse, falling on the ski slopes or having a bad fall in football, hockey or any of those contact sports.
About 5-10% of patients who have symptomatic c-spine arthritis develop myelopathy, or a compression of the long tracts of the spinal cord. It has also been noticed that more men than women suffer from C-spine arthritis tends to affect men more often than women do. This may be because women have muscles and bone structures that are more delicate. Due to this reason, they tend to engage in less boisterous activities that can cause damage to the spine or the vertebrae.
The symptoms of C-spine arthritis may include:
- Chronic pain in the neck pain, particularly with certain motions;
- Weakness in the muscle weakness, accompanied by numbness in the neck and arms, sometime radiating to the hands and fingers;
- Feelings of tenderness to the touch and/or elevated temperature on the neck itself;
- Stiffness which limits movements of the neck, like the inability to look behind;
- Loss of balance
A doctor may use a number of different tests to determine whether a patient is suffering from C-spine arthritis. X-rays may show any abnormalities in the bones of the spine to help determine the amount of degeneration in the vertebrae and their facets. A myelogram with computer tomography (CT) scan can provide the best details of the spine’s bone structure. Further magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are sometimes done to get a clearer picture of the other structures in the spine besides the bone.