Just as in the lumbar spine, the facet joints in the cervical spine can degenerate and lead to arthritis in the neck. Many terms are used interchangeably to refer to cervical osteoarthritis, including cervical spondylosis, degenerative joint disease, or simply neck arthritis. On this site, it is called cervical osteoarthritis.

See Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Cervical Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Neck osteoarthritis symptoms tend to be characterized as follows:

  • Pain that radiates to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
  • See Could That Shoulder Pain Really Stem From the Neck?

  • Pain and stiffness that is worse first thing in the morning, and then improves after getting up and moving around
  • See When Is a Stiff Neck Serious?

  • Pain that gets worse again at the end of the day
  • Feels better with rest
  • May include headaches, especially headaches in the back of the head

Cervical bone spurs (osteophytes) are a common marker of cervical osteoarthritis, and cervical osteophytes may impinge on a nerve, producing the symptoms that radiate into the arms.

See What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?

If the osteoarthritis impinges on the spinal cord it could lead to spinal cord dysfunction, and condition that is called cervical myelopathy.

See Symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine

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In some instances, cervical spondylolisthesis (when one cervical vertebra slips forward over another) may be a secondary issue to the arthritis in the facet joints of the cervical spine, although spondylolisthesis is much more common in the lumbar spine (lower back).

Cervical Osteoarthritis Treatment

Treatments for cervical osteoarthritis are usually nonsurgical and may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Heat or ice, which may be used to help alleviate localized pain. Some people prefer a cold pack or heat, especially after an activity that results in pain, to minimize swelling or inflammation. Other patients prefer heat, such as a heating pad or heat wrap (such as brand name ThermaCare), or moist heat, such as a moist heat wrap for the neck or a warm bath or shower.
  • Watch Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack and Video: How to Make a Gel Ice Pack

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While cervical osteoarthritis tends to be chronic, the symptoms are rarely progressive and rarely require surgery. For patients with severe symptoms that are impeding their ability to function, surgery may be an option and a cervical laminectomy and/or cervical spinal fusion may be considered.

  • For more in-depth information, read all about Osteoarthritis on
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