The name itself – bone spur – sounds like it would be a sharp, jutting protrusion that is sure to cause pain. On the contrary, though, bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are actually not very “spur like.” They tend to be smooth growths of bone attached to other bones, and usually occur at jointed areas that sustain a lot of rubbing and grinding. A common place for them to develop is on the sides and tops of toes when high heels are frequently worn, called “pump bumps.” The bones of the spine can also develop bone spurs, but since these are not visible like bone spurs on the toes, people generally don’t know they have spinal osteophytes unless the bony growths produce symptoms.
Bone spurs can develop in your cervical spine when facet disease, a form of osteoarthritis, sets in. This generally occurs as a result of the natural aging process, and involves the gradual deterioration of the cartilage that lines the facet joints, which are the joints located on the tops and bottoms of vertebrae. As this cartilage slowly disappears, your joint bones can start to grind against each other in a condition called “crepitus.” Crepitus itself can be painful and cause joint stiffness, spontaneous joint lockage, and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. Bone-on-bone grinding can also lead to the formation of bone spurs in or around your joint. These growths of bone can come into contact with the medial branch nerve, which innervates the joint space, or a spinal nerve root, which branches directly off the spinal cord.
Symptoms of Bone Spurs in the Neck
If one of these nerves in the neck does become irritated or compressed by a bone spur, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Localized neck pain at the joint
- Radiating pain in the neck or upper extremities
- Tingling that travels through the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and/or fingers
Treating Bone Spurs
If you have a bone spur in the neck that produces symptoms, you will likely be able to manage your discomfort with a series of conservative (non-surgical) treatments. Always get a proper diagnosis from your doctor before beginning any treatment plan. Before suggesting possible treatments, your doctor will probably perform a physical exam, check for areas of inflammation or other abnormalities along the spine, and test your range of motion. An X-ray, MRI, or CT scan is usually used to detect the presence of a bone spur.
While treatment regimens are always tailored to each patient’s specific needs, common approaches might include physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), stretching, and hot/cold compresses. Throughout the treatment process, stay in close communication with your doctor and report any changes in your symptoms.