When you wake up in the morning, are you greeted by the sound of pops and cracks coming from your neck and upper back?

It’s a disturbing fact of life that as we age, the various structures in our cervical spine begin to break down, and this leads to additional friction and uneven pressure that leads to the noises that you’re hearing. At its most basic, what you’re hearing is the result of degeneration of the surfaces of your joints. The question is, is there anything damaging about this, and is there anything that can be done about it?

Degeneration is a natural process, and the older you get, the more likely it is that it will happen. This is particularly true for those whose genetics lean towards arthritis, and especially spinal arthritis. Other risk factors include smoking cigarettes, occupations that lead to poor posture, previous injuries, and emotional issues including anxiety and depression.

Degenerative arthritis is a process that does not always manifest symptoms. It is common to develop arthritis with no pain and minimal loss of function. When symptoms do appear, they are often so mild that people don’t take notice, or blame them on sleeping in the wrong position, or overwork or overuse. This could be true of you – but if you have started waking up with stiffness and pain on a regular basis, it is probably time for you to make an appointment with our spine specialty practice in New Jersey so that we can diagnose your problem and start finding the right solution for you.

Once you come in to our office, we will conduct a thorough physical examination and ask detailed questions about previous injuries, any family history of arthritis, and the details of your symptoms. We will likely order diagnostic imaging studies to determine whether any physical changes have taken place, and if so to what extent they have occurred. If we spot degeneration, that’s the answer to the origin of the noises that have been emanating from your neck and spine: They were the first signs of arthritis.

To understand how degenerative arthritis impacts the neck, you need to understand the structures of the spine. Your spine is made up of a series of vertebral bones that have discs separating and cushioning them. These soft discs are where degeneration generally begins, and this leads to the spinal bones coming closer together and exerting more pressure on one another. As that pressure increases, so does friction, and this is what leads to both degeneration and the growth of bone spurs. These two actions eventually lead to pain, as they put additional pressure on the nerves that are emanating from the spine. If too much pressure is put on the nerves, the compression can lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs.

It is best to address the problem before it gets to this point. There are strengthening exercises that can be introduced to improve function, increase stability and relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter medications like Motrin, Tylenol or Aleve can relieve discomfort, and there is some research indicating that anti-inflammatory supplements and diet can also ease pain. Beyond that we have several therapeutic tools available to us, including physical therapy, massage and acupuncture.

To address pops, cracks and discomfort, start with an appointment that will give you a diagnosis. Contact us today to set up an appointment with our spine specialist in New Jersey.

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