Degenerative change in the cervical spine or neck is a normal process. It’s important to understand that degenerative change does not always = pain. Osteoarthritis is the diagnosis given when pain and other symptoms arise from degenerative change. Many patients with a clear degenerative change have no or very little pain.
Like any structure, the disc degenerates over time causing a “flattening out” of the disc and as a result other parts of the spine carry more load. This leads to degenerative change of the facet joint and vertebral body and spurs or bony projections arise.
Cause: Many factors may contribute to natural degeneration of the disc and spinal joints. The process can be accelerated by trauma such as whiplash injury and habitual poor posture.
Symptoms: Stiffness is often the first sign of degenerative change in the neck. The movements mainly affected are rotating your head from side to side and bending your head to the side, so that your ear approaches your shoulder. These movements are typically restricted on both sides. Often forward bending of the head and neck are normal and there is little restriction when looking up. Obviously, pain can also be a factor and depending upon the degree of change, one may experience local neck pain only or referred pain into the shoulder, arm or hand.
Treatment: When symptoms are mainly in felt in the neck the most important thing is to keep moving. This helps to produce synovial fluid, a natural lubricant found in joints. The McKenzie Method can provide you with the correct exercises to maintain mobility and acupuncture may also assist in the process.
If your neck problem is caused by degeneration it’s worth trying 1 – 5 sessions with Spine Smart to see if your symptoms change.