How Aging Affects Your Cervical Spine – Part II: Arthritis of the Neck

NeckArthritis_ 7-7Cervical spondylosis refers to the degenerative process of the vertebral disks in the neck (arthritis). Like the rest of the body, the bones in the neck slowly degenerate as we age, which frequently results in arthritis. Most of the time, this condition causes mild to moderate neck pain and stiffness.


Neck pain is extremely common, with more than 85% of people over age 60 being affected. It’s typically caused by chronic wear on the cervical spine as a result of aging. Facet joints in the neck become enlarged, causing the ligaments around the spinal canal to thicken and bone spurs to form. Over time, these changes can press down on (compress) one or more of the nerve roots. In advanced cases, the spinal cord becomes involved.

Aside from aging, the other factors that can make a person more likely to develop spondylosis are:

  • Being overweight
  • Past neck or spine injury
  • Ruptured or slipped disk
  • Genetics – if your family has a history of neck pain


Many people have spondylosis of the neck and do not know it. This is because most of the time, there are no symptoms, or the symptoms are mild. When symptoms do develop, they are typically neck pain, stiffness, headaches (especially in the back of the head), and sometimes shoulder pain. In rare cases, the pain may spread to the upper arm, forearm, or fingers.



Treatment for cervical spondylosis depends on the severity of your signs and symptoms. Most patients who do not have neurological compression associated with spondylosis do not need surgery. Interventional treatments for cervical spondylosis may include:

  • Physical therapy – Strengthening and stretching weakened or strained muscles to relieve the pressure on the nerve root is usually the first treatment that is advised.
  • Medications – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and pain and analgesics to relieve pain.
  • Steroid-based injectionsMany patients find short-term relief from steroid injections to help reduce swelling and treat acute pain that radiates to the hips or down the leg.


For cervical spondylosis causing symptomatic compression of nerve roots or the spinal cord, surgery may be indicated to relieve pain and improve or preserve neurological function. For spondylosis without nerve root or spinal cord compression, surgery is typically avoided. In some unusual conditions, cervical spinal fusion can be performed.

Have you been told you need neck surgery? Over 90% of neck and back problems can be treated without surgery, but if surgery has been recommended, you may want to seek a second surgical opinion.

At the Emory Orthopaedic & Spine Center, our internationally-recognized spine surgeons research, pioneer and refine the most effective approaches to treating a variety of spine conditions.

To see if you may be a candidate for spine surgery, take our five minute spine quiz

About Dr. Rhee

John M. Rhee, MD, is a Spinal Surgeon and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery specializing in cervical spine surgery, lumbar spine surgery, complex spinal deformity surgery (scoliosis and kyphosis) and surgery for spinal tumors. Dr. Rhee is an active researcher and sought-after teacher/lecturer at the national and international level in multiple medical societies. He has served as faculty and been an invited lecturer at numerous meetings and courses on spine surgery. In addition, he has served as Program Chairman at numerous national and international spine surgery meetings. Dr. Rhee has also published extensively in a number of peer reviewed journals and books, and he has received numerous awards and honors. He is actively involved the training of international research scholars and other spinal surgeons and has been the author and editor of major textbooks on spine surgery techniques.

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