Arthritis is a medical condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the joints. There are various forms of arthritis, wherein one or more joints located in any part of the body may become inflamed. Even the spine could get affected by this inflammatory disease. The spine consists of three segments that are referred to as the cervical spine, thoracic spine and the lumbar spine. Neck arthritis, which is also referred to as cervical spondylosis, is a debilitating disease, which is characterized by the degeneration of the structures present in the cervical spine.
Neck arthritis is common in elderly people. For a person who has been diagnosed with neck arthritis, sudden jerky movements or whiplash injuries can lead to serious complications. In severe cases where pain is unmanageable, surgery may be recommended to help one recover the normal range of motion of the neck. Scroll down to find out more on the circumstances under which surgery may become a necessity.
When is Neck Arthritis Surgery Recommended?
As mentioned earlier, neck arthritis is mainly associated with the age-related degeneration of the structures that make up the cervical spine. The cervical spine starts at the base of the skull and consists of the seven vertebrae. The intervertebral discs located between the vertebrae facilitate shock absorption and their soft jelly-like interior prevents bones from rubbing against each other. While discs prevent frictional forces from damaging these bones, other structures that impart flexibility to the neck include facet joints, ligaments, spinal muscles and tendons.
The nerves located in this region provide sensation to this area. Most of the time, degeneration of the intervertebral discs that act as a cushion between the cervical vertebrae, give rise to neck pain and stiffness in the elderly. At times, the hard outer shell of a disc may break and cause the soft gelatinous material to leak out.
When the disc gets displaced from its place or becomes herniated, it may start pressing against the spinal nerves. Compression of any of the spinal nerves is bound to cause neck stiffness and pain. Osteophytes, also known as bone spurs, could form in the event of an injury. The formation of an extra bone or bony outgrowths at the site of the injury is the body's way of undoing the damage. These abnormal bony growths, however, may cause pain if they press against the surrounding tissues or the nerves.
If one is diagnosed with aforementioned problems, doctors may initially recommend the use of painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids. Massage therapy, application of heat pads, use of a cervical collar, dietary modifications or physical therapy may also be recommended for the treatment of arthritis neck pain. If these don't seem to help, surgery would be required to remove the bone spur or treat the damaged cartilage, ligaments or bones.
How is this Surgery Performed?
Neck arthritis surgery is resorted to only if the patient doesn't respond well to the conservative neck arthritis treatment options. The procedure a surgeon would employ would vary depending on the underlying cause of neck pain. Spinal X-ray or other imaging procedures such as MRI or CT scan are often conducted to ascertain the underlying cause of pain.
Bone spurs or herniated discs can be detected with the help of such tests. Laminectomy, spinal fusion or discectomy are some of the procedures that may be performed for alleviating the distressing symptoms of arthritis of the neck. Laminectomy is a procedure that is used for the removal of lamina or the portion of the bone that may be pinching the spinal nerve. The removal of the lamina or bone spurs would resolve the problem of compression of the nerves.
Sometimes, surgeons may perform another procedure called foraminotomy. This surgical procedure involves the widening of the foramen. Foramen is the opening from where the nerve roots leave the spinal canal. Discectomy, on the other hand, refers to the removal of a damaged or herniated disc. Removing the herniated disc helps in taking off the pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves. If the need is felt, spinal fusion may also be performed. This procedure is usually performed if the vertebrae seem to be weak or slipping over each other.
Fusing two vertebrae will prevent them from slipping or moving. Strips of bone graft material are used for fusing vertebrae together. As is the case with any surgery, complications may develop after these procedures. There is always a risk of injury to the surrounding structures. Certain risks may be associated with the administration of anesthesia. Infection, bleeding or formation of blood clots may also become a cause of concern. If the patient develops any of these complications, he/she must consult a doctor immediately. After care or self-care measures must also be followed post surgery.
If you analyze the risks associated with the surgery, the conservative treatment options certainly seem to be safer. This is the reason why neck arthritis surgery is recommended only when the patient is not responding to the other treatment options. Since various risks are related to this surgery, one must make it a point to find out all about the complications as well as the success rate of such a surgery. If surgery has become a necessity, ensure that this surgery is performed by an experienced surgeon.