Cervical osteophytes are bone spurs that grow on any of the seven vertebrae in the cervical spine (neck), ranging from the base of the skull, C1 vertebra, to the base of the neck, C7 vertebra.
The term “bone spurs” might elicit images of radiating spikes, but bone spurs (osteophytes) are really rounded and scalloped. The outer edge of a vertebra with bone spurs can resemble the hem of a ruffled gown or dripped wax built-up at the bottom of a candle light.
Osteophytes in the spine are a normal sign of aging and can be connected with conditions such as degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and others. Osteophytes are not a cause for issue unless they lead to pain or neurological symptoms — such as tingling, numbness, or weak point– that can in some cases radiate from the neck into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand.
Bones are constantly renewing, like fingernails and hair. Nevertheless, irritated or damaged tissues can unusually influence neighboring bone development. As a result of these unusual impacts, osteophyte formation happens when new bone cells are transferred where they would not typically grow.
Cervical osteophyte development generally takes place when ligaments and tendons around the cervical spine’s bones and joints are damaged or irritated. This procedure usually occurs with wear and tear with time.
The swollen or broken tissue that promotes cervical osteophyte development is frequently caused by cervical osteoarthritis, a destruction in the neck joints that takes place in many older people. These joints consist of the disc areas themselves (a customized joint), the element joints, and the uncovertebral joints (in levels C3 through C7). Often cervical osteoarthritis is likewise referred to as cervical spondylosis.
Other types of arthritis, traumatic injury, and poor posture can also cause osteophyte formation.
Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are not painful in and of themselves. Lots of people with cervical bone spurs experience no pain or neurological symptoms. Nevertheless, symptoms might occur if the osteophytes intrude upon the individual spinal nerves, the spinal cord itself, the vertebral discs, or the capillary in the area of the cervical vertebral column.
Symptoms of Bone Spurs in the Neck
People who do experience issues connected with cervical bone spurs might display a vast array of symptoms, consisting of but not restricted to:
- Radicular pain. A searing or shock-like pain can radiate along the nerve pathway from the neck into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand. It is usually only on one side, however it can also be on both sides.
- Headaches. Cervicogenic headache, which can result if an osteophyte presses versus a cervical nerve root that radiates pain to the back of the head — and often to the leading or sides of the head and/or behind the eye.
- Myelopathy. If the cervical bone spur begins entering into the back canal and irritates the spine, then an individual might have extra neurological issues such as balance and/or coordination problems, agonizing shock-like pains through the arms and/or legs that might be intensified when bending forward, weakness or numbness anywhere below the neck, and possibly loss bowel or bladder control.
- Dull neck pain. This kind of pain can be a basic achiness.
- Dysphagia. In uncommon cases, individuals can experience progressive trouble swallowing or breathing.
- Neck tightness. The neck is most likely sore and has actually minimized mobility, particularly if experiencing increased pain when turning from side to side.
- Neurological problems. Numbness or tingling in one or both arms and/or hands. There might also be progressive weakness in one or both arms and/or hands with or without disability of finger dexterity.
Such symptoms as those described above are similar or the like those that can be brought on by a variety of other neurological and/or back conditions. A precise medical diagnosis is essential in order to successfully handle or treat the associated symptoms of pain or neurological problems.
For the majority of people, cervical osteophytes do not cause symptoms. In fact, it is common for people to have bone spurs show up on x-rays or MRIs without them being a reason for pain or other symptoms.
If somebody is experiencing neck pain or symptoms of tingling, numbness, or weak point radiating into the shoulder, arm, or hand, then a doctor will likely begin by taking a patient’s history and performing a physical exam. Frequently, non-surgical treatments of neck pain can start without performing sophisticated diagnostics such as imaging research studies or electrodiagnostic tests.
If symptoms persist or aggravate, then advanced diagnostics might be used, which are the only way to validate is osteophytes are present. Here are some common methods used to determine if osteophytes may be a cause of pain for the patient:
- MRI scan. An MRI reveals detailed cross-sections of the soft tissues and bones. It does not use radiation, and it tends to be much better for showing possible damage to soft tissues — such as discs — than x-rays or CT scans. If the outcomes of an MRI compare with what the patient is complaining about (for example, large osteophytes found near the C6 nerve correspond to the patient’s symptoms), then that may be all that is required for the diagnosis. However, MRI findings do not always compare with the patient’s symptoms, so it is very important to treat the patient and not the MRI.
- Electrodiagnostic testing. A nerve conduction research study can test the nerves’ electrical activity in the arms; this test is typically followed by an electromyogram, which evaluates the muscles’ electrical activity. These tests can help identify the area of where a nerve might be having an issue, which might be useful if imaging studies have actually been inconclusive.
Other imaging studies and tests could likewise be used, but they are less typical. For example, a somatosensory stimulated potential can help figure out if the spine is being impinged.
Bone Spurs in Neck Treatment
Most cervical osteophytes, or bone spurs in the neck, have no symptoms and hence need no treatment. Nevertheless, if bone spurs become symptomatic, various treatment alternatives are available. Normally, non-surgical treatment options will be attempted first.
In rare cases when non-surgical treatments are not working or symptoms are worsening, then surgery may be considered as a last alternative.
Treatment options for symptomatic bone spurs in the neck could include:
- Physical therapy. A physiotherapist or other competent health professional can develop a workout and stretching routine to assist the patient enhance neck strength and versatility, which oftentimes can reduce pain. Most treatment programs for neck pain need some kind of physical therapy or home exercises.
- Activity modification. Maybe a day or more of rest, or restricting strenuous activities, might assist. Other possibilities may consist of using better posture. For example, hunching over a desk 8 hours a day might be exacerbating the problem, so sitting up straighter– and taking more regular breaks — might relieve symptoms.
- Manual adjustment. A chiropractic specialist, osteopathic doctor, or other qualified health specialist can by hand adjust the cervical spine in an effort to minimize pain and/or enhance mobility. Often manual adjustment becomes part of a physical therapy program.
- Ice and/or heat therapy. Cooling or warming the neck area, such as with an ice pack or heated gel pack, may help reduce pain for some people. Other alternatives for heat therapy might include taking a warm shower or using an electric blanket.
- Medications or injections. Sometimes medication, such as anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxant pain medications, can provide relief. Nevertheless, a doctor will likely wish to reassess the patient within 4 to 6 weeks of having actually started the medications. Also, if medications and other treatments do not provide enough relief, a health professional may use an injection that delivers medication straight near the problematic bone spur to assist reduce inflammation and/or block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Numerous other options could also be considered for relieving symptoms of cervical osteophytes. As a couple of more examples, some people report pain remedy for massage, acupuncture, and/or traction.
Bone Spurs Require Neck Surgery
If symptoms of cervical radiculopathy (nerve root compression in the neck) or cervical myelopathy (spinal cord compression in the neck) continue to advance regardless of non-surgical treatments, then surgery may be considered to protect nerve and/or spine health.
For a cervical nerve root compression, a most likely surgical choice could be anterior cervical discectomy and blend (ACDF). If instead the spine is being compressed, then some type of spine decompression surgery will be carried out, such as anterior cervical corpectomy or posterior cervical laminectomy.