Osteoarthritis is chronic wear of the joint cartilage accompanied by an imbalance between the production and destruction of bone cells. Osteoarthritis is a complex phenomenon involving physical and metabolic factors. In a joint, the cartilage covers the end of the bone and helps to ensure joint mobility with minimum friction. The cells are replaced at the same rate as they are destroyed. The full mobility of the joint is thus preserved. When the cells are renewed more slowly than they are destroyed, and/or if physical stresses (impacts, repeated friction) are too severe, the metabolic balance of the joint is disrupted. Cartilage wear then develops, starting with cracks, which then gradually worsen to form genuine holes (ulcerations). The bone can be left completely bare in places and the bone surfaces are then in direct contact with one another..
The phenomenon tends to be a self-perpetuating process. It culminates in painful restriction of joint mobility, with the joint becoming increasingly stiff. Arthritic pain is triggered by use of the joint and relieved by rest. However, certain inflammatory forms are also painful at night. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but it is most common in the knees, hands, spine and hips. It is promoted by physical factors, heredity, age or obesity.
Osteoarthritis of the neck (or cervical spine) is chronic wear of the cartilages between the cervical vertebrae (at the level of the posterior joint apophyses), localised in the neck. It usually develops around the age of 40, with pain at the base of the neck (between C4 and C7). The pain gradually worsens as a result of cartilages wear and tear. The neck becomes stiff and head movements become increasingly difficult.
Pain may radiate towards the nape, the shoulder and the arm due to the formation of osteophytes (anarchic development of new bone substance), which compress the spinal nerve roots. Osteophytes can also compress the vertebral arteries and cause dizziness. The condition can also go unnoticed, with no pain or physical incapacity. It is common among people who work with their heads bent forward, over a computer keyboard, for example. It is found in everyone to varying degrees but predominantly affects women. It is also known as "cervical spondylosis".
The primary aim of an orthopaedic solution is to relieve pain. Wearing a foam neck collar (C1) retains local heat (analgesic effect). The neck collar partially supports the weight of the head and relaxes the muscles: this reduces the stresses exerted on the cervical joints. Supporting the neck in the correct position requires proper adjustment of the height and circumference of the neck collar. It is important to wear the neck collar during painful flare-ups. Tricks such as wearing a scarf or high roll-necked jumper can help wearers get over any reluctance to wear the collar.
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