When some people complain about a pain in the neck, they really mean it.
“Neck arthritis is very common presentation for primary care physicians and for spine surgeons,” says Dr. Jon Kimball, an orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Fifty million Americans have some form of arthritis; it’s frequently related to years of wear and tear. Not quite as common as in the hip or knee, neck arthritis tends to sneak up on people.
“Arthritis can present any number of ways in the neck. Stiffness is one of the more common ones but many people play it off as maybe that they slept wrong. After the problems become more constant or more bothersome and then they seek care and then they find out that they have arthritis and most likely have had it for many years,” says Dr. Kimball.
Stiff neck is a prime symptom but not the only symptom.
“Other symptoms are radiating pain into the arms or legs, balance changes, handwriting or coordination changes, or it can be things that you might not necessarily associate with neck arthritis such as headaches and muscle spasms,” says Dr. Kimball.
Because the neck holds some of our body’s most prime real estate, people are very cautious about how they treat it. The earlier they see a doctor the more likely they’ll be able to hold their head up high.
“With our understanding of the process of neck arthritis, we can do interventions, whether its surgery, whether its injections, very safely and hopefully improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Kimball.
The key is to use your head and seek a diagnosis if you have frequent neck stiffness that may include radiating pain into the arms.