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Understanding Cervical Arthritis and How Physical Therapy Can Help

May 8, 2024

Cervical arthritis, also known as cervical spondylosis, is a common condition that affects the neck region of the spine. It is characterized by the degeneration of the intervertebral discs and the development of bone spurs or osteophytes. This condition is typically age-related, but other factors such as injury, genetics, and lifestyle can also contribute to its onset. In this blog, we’ll explore cervical arthritis in detail and discuss how physical therapy can be a valuable tool in managing its symptoms.

Cervical arthritis occurs due to the natural wear and tear on the cervical spine over time. The cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae, connected by intervertebral discs and supported by ligaments and muscles. As people age, these discs can become thinner and lose flexibility, leading to decreased cushioning between the vertebrae. This can result in bone-on-bone contact, causing pain and discomfort. Bone spurs or osteophytes can form as the body tries to compensate for the loss of cushioning. These spurs can press on nerves, leading to pain, tingling, and numbness in the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.

Cervical arthritis can manifest in various ways, depending on which nerves are affected. Common symptoms include:

– Neck pain and stiffness

– Reduced range of motion in the neck

– Radiating pain in the shoulders, arms, or hands

– Numbness or tingling in the extremities

– Muscle weakness

– Headaches, particularly at the base of the skull

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Physical therapy is a key component of managing cervical arthritis. It can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and strengthen the muscles that support the cervical spine. A physical therapist will design a customized treatment plan based on your specific needs and goals. Here are some common elements of physical therapy for cervical arthritis:

Range of Motion Exercises

These exercises aim to improve flexibility and reduce stiffness in the neck. They may include gentle stretching and controlled movements to increase the range of motion without causing further damage.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening the muscles that support the neck and shoulders can help stabilize the cervical spine and reduce strain. These exercises often target the deep neck flexors, upper back, and shoulder muscles.

Postural Training

Proper posture can alleviate stress on the cervical spine. Physical therapists will work with you to correct postural imbalances and teach you how to maintain good posture throughout the day, whether you’re sitting, standing, or lying down.

Manual Therapy

Manual therapy involves hands-on techniques such as massage, joint mobilization, and myofascial release. These techniques can help reduce pain, improve circulation, and relax tense muscles.

Pain Management

Physical therapists can also use modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

Education and Lifestyle Modification

Education is a critical aspect of physical therapy. Your therapist will teach you about cervical arthritis, including how to manage symptoms at home and what lifestyle changes can support long-term neck health. This might include ergonomics, stress reduction, and activity modifications.


Cervical arthritis can be a painful and limiting condition, but physical therapy offers a non-invasive and effective way to manage its symptoms. By improving flexibility, strength, and posture, physical therapy can help you maintain a more active and pain-free lifestyle. If you’re experiencing symptoms of cervical arthritis, consider consulting a physical therapist to explore the benefits of a tailored treatment plan. With the right approach, you can take control of your condition and enjoy a higher quality of life.