Degenerative neck disease exercises

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

The neck (cervical) spine is made up of 7 bones called vertebrae separated by rubbery disks.

These discs are like shock absorbers because they help to cushion the vertebrae. Just as importantly, they facilitate turning of the head and neck. Over time, these disks become flatten and become less elastic. This condition is known as cervical disk disease or degenerative disk disease.

The disc is like a jelly doughnut with a soft center called the nucleus pulposus and a harder outer ring called the annulus fibrosis. When the outer edge of a disk tears, allowing the jelly inside to bulge outward, this is called a herniated disk.

This puts pressure on nerves that exit the spine. Two adjacent vertebrae can rub together. This leads to the formation of bone spurs that can also pinch nerves. These situations cause pain and limited movement.

Cervical disk disease is a gradual process that is aggravated by poor posture, lifting things in a non efficient manner, and using tobacco products.

Symptoms include pain and limitation of movement in the neck. Pain can radiate to the shoulder and arm. The pain can be accompanied by weakness. If the spinal cord is affected, weakness may occur in the legs. Loss of bowel or bladder control may also develop.

Diagnostic imaging procedures may include a CT scan, an MRI, or myelography. Also, an electromyogram (EMG) may be used to evaluate the status of nerves in the arms, hands, or legs.

Treatment usually involves physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and use of a cervical collar (to reduce neck movement). Neck traction and moist heat may also be recommended. In some cases, steroids may be injected into the spinal canal or at the facet joints to help alleviate symptoms.

Maintaining good posture and using a neck support pillow can be helpful. Treatment may last anywhere several weeks. Neck surgery is not usually advised unless other therapies have not worked.

Acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and yoga can be useful.

Cervical traction applied a few times a day is often soothing. Swimming is one type of exercise that is recommended for neck pain sufferers.

Stretches that may help maintain range of motion include:

1. Stand upright with good posture meaning shoulders back in the "West Point" posture

2. Slowly rotate your head to move your chin towards one shoulder and then the opposite one. Each movement should be done to an eight count.

This movement should be slow and controlled.

Slow neck rolls forward and to the side also can be helpful. All exercises should be done under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Neck and shoulder strengthening is another area where a patient can be helped.Data is available showing that weight training for the shoulder and neck muscles helps relieve neck pain due to osteoarthritis.

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