Cervical degenerative joint disease is one of the virtually universal diagnostic conclusions that are typically applied to people with all manner of neck pain problems. What many of these patients do not know is that CDJD can also applied to virtually all adults who do not have neck pain, nor will ever develop it. Degenerative joint disease is not only found in the neck, but is usually spread throughout the spine, with most people also demonstrating significant deterioration of the spinal joints in the lower back, as well. Thoracic joint degeneration is not universal, but is still not considered anything out of the ordinary for a middle aged or older adult to experience.
CDJD is one of our favorite topics, since it is so greatly misunderstood and affects vast numbers of people who have been told that it is a primary or secondary cause of their pain. Therefore, we have written this essay to help patients to better comprehend the specifics of the condition, as well as objectively rate how the joint degeneration process may or may not be involved in creating their specific types of pain.
What is Cervical Degenerative Joint Disease?
When discussing any type of degenerative joint syndrome, we are talking about arthritis. In this case, we are focusing on osteoarthritis that is found in the various spinal joints of the cervical region.
CDJD entails a breakdown of the protective measures within each joint, including the loss of cartilage, the loss of lubricating fluid and the possible loss of proper laxity or tension provided by supporting muscular and ligamentous structures. CDJD is found hand-in-hand with the other universal spinal deterioration process, cervical degenerative disc disease, or CDDD. In fact, CDDD is a main formative component of CDJD, since disc desiccation is one of the factors that cause increased bone-to-bone interactions and the subsequent joint deterioration which ensues.
Osteoarthritis is completely normal to experience throughout the body, with primary locations usually occupying the hands, shoulders, hips, and spine. In fact, spinal OA is the most commonly imaged type by physicians, compared to any other anatomical location. Osteoarthritis describes a process wherein the spinal joints react towards age and activity, showing noticeable wear from a lifetime of normal usage. Remember, the spine consists of many individual vertebral bones that each hinge to one another through a complex series of joints and these connections must move constantly to facilitate all the basic functionality that we humans enjoy.
Our spinal joints rarely get much rest when we are awake, since they must move to allow all of our physical exertions, including standing, sitting and walking. Furthermore, these joints must bear the brunt of our weight, as well as all the forces and stresses we apply to our bodies throughout each day of our lives. When viewed in this respect, it is amazing that the spinal joints hold up to such abuse as well as they actually do.
Cervical DJD Misunderstandings
People have been so thoroughly conditioned to associate arthritis with pain. Doctors have told us that arthritis is a pathological process and surely it can be. However, it does not need to be symptomatic and medical research has shown that most cases are minor, mostly asymptomatic and not the source of significant pain or neurological deficits. Of course, this is not an absolute rule by any means, since the arthritic processes can enact big problems in the spinal anatomy when they reach certain thresholds.
As laymen, we never learned any of these truths. We merely focused on the pain aspect and assume that all varieties of arthritis are therefore painful and harmful. In this regard, CDJD is much alike to CDDD, since laymen also assume that disc degeneration is pathological and reason enough to explain dire symptoms.
As stated above, research conclusively shows that most arthritis is not painful to a significant degree, nor will it necessarily become so in the future. Typical spinal DJD is certainly not a logical explanation for the types of ultra-severe symptomatic expressions that are blamed on it each and every day. Worse still, being that CDJD is typically a condition that involves pain upon joint movement in its symptomatic forms, many expressions can be immediately eliminated as being caused by the arthritic accumulations, since pain exists when no motion is enacted in the affected joints.
Cervical Degenerative Joint Disease Truths
Not everything about CDJD is so innocent. Spinal arthritis can cause, or contribute to, many pathological processes within the cervical vertebral column. However, once again, the degree of these processes ranges from asymptomatic to mildly symptomatic to extremely debilitating. In essence, just because arthritis causes or contributes to a mild or moderate version of any of the following conditions, does not mean that the condition or its foundation arthritic source is harmful, unless it actually reaches symptomatic levels through neurological or mechanical interactions:
OA in the neck is a major source of both central spinal and neuroforaminal stenosis. The former types of canal narrowing can cause widespread symptoms when the spinal cord becomes compressed, while the latter might create a pinched nerve condition unilaterally or bilaterally. CDJD can cause mechanical neck pain when joints begin to suffer drastic buildup of arthritic debris or osteophytes that interfere with typical joint movement.
Cervical DJD Conclusion
CDJD may or may not factor into any given symptomatic concern. This is on a case-by-case basis and should be ascertained through proper diagnostic evaluation of each patient. That being said, it is vital for every patient to know that some care providers make mistakes, while others might purposefully implicate innocent OA as a villain, in order to easily refer the patient into treatment.
The arthritic changes can cause pain through several processes that are detailed above. If none of these processes are occurring in the affected levels, to a degree deemed to be symptomatic by an objective medical expert, then the CDJD is likely not a major cause of the present pain, regardless of its presence in the region. In this regard, SDJD is much like DDD or intervertebral herniations, which also act as convenient and incorrect scapegoats for pain, at least as often as they actually cause it.