Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is often associated with damage in the smaller joints of the hands and feet, and to a lesser extent, the larger joints. One overlooked area that may be affected is the neck. If RA affects your cervical spine, there are ways you reduce pain, stiffness, and damage to this area.
Have Imaging Tests
It is important to have imaging tests done on your cervical spine. Generally, your doctor will order an x-ray to determine if there are obvious indicators that RA has caused damage. In some cases, there will be obvious narrowing of the disc space or misalignment of the cervical vertebrae. Unfortunately, x-rays do not tell the entire story of the damage that may occur due to RA. Additional testing with an MRI is ideal, especially if your pain is severe and you also have pain that indicates nerve involvement. Monitoring your cervical spine with imaging tests can help your doctors determine if your neck may be unstable, which would warrant surgical intervention.
Consider Other Pain Treatments
Although it is important to treat RA with different medications, such as DMARDS or biologics to help reduce pain and disease progression, you may also need medications that are helpful in reducing nerve pain or muscle tightness. For example, some medications used to treat depression or fibromyalgia might be helpful if inflammation in your neck causes nerve pain and irritation. The occasional use of muscle relaxers might also be helpful when pain is at its worse. For day-to-day pain management, you might benefit from anti-inflammatory pain medicines or other prescription pain relievers. Tackling pain from different perspectives will give you the best chance at staying functional and comfortable.
Beyond the use of different medications for the treatment of RA and pain, self-care is also important. Being mindful of the way you sleep and position your neck throughout the day can also help. You might find sleeping on your back with adequate neck support prevents you from waking up in severe pain and stiff. Throughout the day, you should do gentle range-of-motion exercises for your neck to avoid stiffness, especially if you sit at the computer for many hours. Simply rotating your neck left and right can prevent stiffness from setting in throughout the day. Depending on the exact cause of stiffness, you may need to try heat or cold to make your neck feel more comfortable. Heat often works well for tight muscles around the neck, but cold can reduce swelling and inflammation.
RA can cause significant pain and stiffness in the cervical spine, eventually leading to damage. If you are experiencing neck pain, it is important to determine the severity of the problem before finding ways to manage pain and stiffness. Reach out to experts like those at Allegheny Brain And Spine Surgeons.