Neck pain and inflammation is a common problem with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA generally affects the synovial joints, making the C1-C2 junction vulnerable to inflammation and degeneration. When RA affects your neck, there are several strategies to help with daily pain, in addition to your current treatments.
Be Mindful Of Your Posture
Although looking down or up for extended periods is not good for anyone's neck, you will notice bad posture significantly more when you have RA. You may notice this more when you are watching television, using the computer, or looking downward to read or use a mobile device. Find ways to elevate the items you frequently use so your neck remains in a neutral position. If you are generally looking up at the television, you might find reclining in a comfortable chair places you in a better position relative to the television. When using the computer at a desk, consider using a computer monitor stand to raise the monitor a few more inches off the desk. Although holding your mobile device up during use might fatigue your arms, it puts your device in better viewing position.
Use Support For Sleep
When RA affects your neck, it is common to wake up with a severely stiff neck. To minimize this problem, you will need to invest in pillows or other supportive items that help cradle your neck and keep it in a neutral position while you sleep. If you generally sleep on your back, you pillows made with grooves designed to mimic the contours of head and neck can help. Additionally, placing a wedge pillow under your head and neck pillow can keep you slightly elevated throughout the night, which might reduce stiffness. When you are a side-sleeper, conventional head and neck pillows might be more cumbersome if they are not the right thickness. If the pillow does not cradle your head and neck while lying on your side, adding an extra pillow under the specialty pillow might elevate it enough so it fits properly. As an alternative, you can try using a neck pillow similar to ones used for travel to give your neck more support.
Consider Steroid Injections
If your neck is especially troublesome, steroid injections might be helpful, especially if you currently take pain medication but it does not seem to help your neck. Steroid injection are reserved as a "spot treatment" for inflammation. Depending on your level of inflammation and any underlying degeneration of your cervical spine, you might only need an injection occasionally, when the problem is at its worse. Much like using steroid injections in other areas, they are limited to only a few times per year. Over time, steroid injections can cause weakening of the surrounding bone, further deteriorating the area. In extreme cases, surgery may be the only other option to increase neck stability and reduce pain.
The cervical spine is often overlooked as a problem in RA. Being mindful of your neck positioning throughout the day and while you sleep can reduce pain and stiffness. Contact a clinic, like Physical Therapy at ACAC, for more help.