Doctor's Responses Archive

Viewer Question:

What is cervical osteoarthritis?

Doctor's Response:

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by breakdown of cartilage with eventual loss of the cartilage of the joints. Cartilage is a protein substance that serves as a "cushion" between the bones of the joints. Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis. Among the over 100 different types of arthritis conditions, osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting over 15 million people in the United States.

Cervical osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis of the spine in the neck, is simply osteoarthritis affecting the spine in the neck. The joints that connect one vertebra to another in the neck are called facets. In cervical osteoarthritis these joint suffer by degeneration or "wear" of cartilage. With longer standing degeneration of the cervical spine bony outgrowths, called spurs, form. Occasionally, this can cause pinching of nerves that produce pain in the distribution of the nerve(s) affected.

Cervical osteoarthritis is often associated with degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae. Sometimes this can cause injury to the adjacent nerves and spinal cord.

Cervical osteoarthritis can be determined by viewing a plain film x-ray of the neck or other imaging method of the neck, such as MRI or CAT scan.

Cervical osteoarthritis can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on what problems it is causing and how severe the symptoms are. Treatment options include pain medications, soft neck collar, muscle relaxants, antiinflammation medications, and surgical procedures that relieve pressure on nervous tissue and/or stabilize the neck.

Thank you for your question.


Last Editorial Review: 7/31/2002