If you have been experiencing gradual neck pain during your senior years, it could be due to osteoarthritis of the cervical spine, otherwise known as cervical spondylosis. This condition, which is a type of disc degeneration, often occurs due to deterioration of the discs and vertebrae of the neck as one ages. When bone spurs develop from cervical spondylosis and press on sensitive nerves, you may experience chronic or recurring neck pain. There are ways to manage your symptoms of age-related neck pain, such as treatment by chiropractic adjustment, physical therapy and the use of anti-inflammatory medications, but first you need to identify your symptoms and consult a physician.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis may vary among individuals, but most commonly, neck pain and stiffness may occur. There may be a limited range of mobility. Some individuals also experience headaches or pain that radiates down the arm. If you are a senior who has developed these symptoms, it's best to see your doctor for an evaluation.
What to Expect From Your Exam
In order to make a conclusive diagnosis, your physician will examine your range of motion. You may be asked to move your head and neck in various directions, generally from side to side, then forward and up and down. The doctor may ask if you experience stiffness or discomfort while doing so. Reflexes may also be tested to note whether nerve damage has occurred.
X-rays may be ordered initially, and this may indicate if osteoarthritis is present in the neck. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may suggest other imaging tests. The following tests may be done at a testing facility or hospital:
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Through the use of magnetic fields, your joints, tissues and vertebrae will be scanned, producing detailed images. This will allow your doctor to see abnormalities of the cervical spine.
Before you are placed into the MRI scanner, you may be injected with a liquid that enables the radiologist to see the body tissues more clearly. This liquid may be referred to as a contrasting dye. You will then lie down on the scanning chamber and be given earplugs that diminish the loud noise emitted from the scanner during the procedure. After the procedure is completed, the radiologist will write up a report for your doctor.
Computerized Tomography (CT): This scan is occasionally used as an alternative to an MRI. Some patients may not be able to undergo magnetic imaging (MRI) scans. For instance, if you have a pacemaker installed, the magnetic fields may disrupt the device or cause a malfunction with your pacemaker.
In such a case, your doctor may order the above mentioned computerized tomography (CT) scan. By assembling a cross section of images from a series of x-rays, the radiologist will be able to get a detailed view of the vertebrae and tissues of your neck.
Treatment Options for Age-Related Disc Degeneration
Once your doctor has made a diagnosis of cervical spondylosis, a treatment plan will be created, which may include the following:
Medication: Initially, you may receive a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID. This may help relieve the inflammation of your cervical spine. If you experience gastrointestinal distress such as stomach pain or nausea, report this to your doctor right away.
Physical Rehabilitation: To relieve your neck pain and improve your range of motion, you may be advised to undergo physical therapy. This typically includes gentle stretching and range of motion exercises, as demonstrated by a certified physiotherapist.
As part of your physical therapy program, you may be given applications of heat (to diminish the pain) or ice (to reduce the inflammation). Massage therapy may also be offered. In addition, your therapist may recommend electrical stimulation therapy.
A common form of electrotherapy is known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). This involves the use of electrodes that are applied to your neck with adhesive pads. The electrodes are connected to a small device that delivers high-frequency electrical stimulation directly to your tissues. The technique is intended to block pain signals from the cervical nerves.
Chiropractic Treatment: Alternatively, you may be referred to a chiropractor, a medical specialist that practices various manipulation techniques of the spine and neck. Chiropractic adjustment may include a technique known as cervical mobilization. This manual manipulation involves adjusting the vertebrae, as the head is gently moved from side to side.
Once you have been given a definitive diagnosis for your neck pain, managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life is achievable. Contact a clinic like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates for more information.