A bone spur in the cervical (neck) region of the spine does not often cause recognizable symptoms. In fact, many people develop these excess growths of bone and never even realize they exist. Others might experience nothing more serious than a popping or cracking sound, known as crepitus, that arises when they turn their head left or right. Still others might begin to feel mild stiffness, especially after sleeping or after hours of sitting hunched over a computer keyboard or standing at a work station. Then, there are more severe symptoms related to a spinal bone spur. These can become debilitating, or at the very least cause a person to scale down their level of physical activity.
Bone Spur or Muscle Strain?
Neck pain is one of the most common symptoms associated with a particularly troublesome bone spur, which is also known as an osteophyte, in the cervical spine. Osteophytes can occur on any bone in the body and are related to osteoarthritis, which is the deterioration of cartilage lining the joints. When the degenerating joints begin to lose stability, the body responds by growing excess bone. The potential for symptoms will depend on how large the osteophyte becomes, and where it is located.
How can someone tell the difference between neck pain caused by a bone spur and that caused by a much more common occurrence – a muscle strain? In general, localized pain related to inflammation caused by an osteophyte worsens gradually over time, and most often only after prolonged fixed posture (as when working in front of a computer screen). By contrast, a muscle strain gives rise to acute, or sudden, discomfort. It is the most common source of pain felt by someone who slept with the head in an awkward position.
Only a Doctor Can Say for Sure
Generally, if someone suspects that neck pain and other symptoms might be caused by a bone spur, the only way to know for sure is to go to the doctor for diagnosis. Although a physician might be able to detect osteophytes using palpation of the painful area, an X-ray or other medical imaging test is the most reliable source for definitive information.