What are Cervical Bone Spurs?

Marjorie McAtee

Cervical bone spurs are growths that form on the vertebrae of the cervical spine in the neck. Over time, however, cervical bone spurs can begin to protrude into the foramen, or opening in the vertebra that allows the spinal cord to pass through. Cervical bone spurs may cause no symptoms, or they can cause pain when they apply pressure to surrounding bones, tissues, nerves, or the spinal cord itself. Bone spurs, or osteophytes, can break off from the bone to which they're attached and interfere with joint mobility. Causes of bones spurs include spondylosis, osteoarthritis, and spinal degeneration due to aging.

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.

Cervical and other types of spinal bone spurs typically occur due to the normal degeneration of the spine that accompanies growing older. With time, the spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae from impact can suffer from wear and grow thinner. The ligaments that hold these joints together may thicken to compensate for the resulting looseness in the joint. With more time, these ligaments can calcify, and bone spurs can form on the surrounding vertebrae.

An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis, showing where bone spurs can develop.
An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis, showing where bone spurs can develop.

Factors that contribute to the development of cervical bone spurs include diet, heredity, and history of spinal trauma. Those with poor posture are considered more likely to develop bones spurs on the cervical spine, as well as other parts of the spine. Repetitive strain is believed to play a role in the development of cervical bones spurs as well.

Cervical bone spurs may be the cause of shoulder pain.
Cervical bone spurs may be the cause of shoulder pain.

Symptoms of cervical bone spurs can include muscle weakness, spasms and numbness. Bone spurs in the cervical spine can cause pain in the shoulders and neck. Those suffering from cervical spine bone spurs may experience a lack of motor control over certain parts of the body. This can occur because the spur is putting pressure on a nerve that controls muscle movement in that part of the body. If the bone spur has broken off and is stuck in the joint, the joint may be difficult to move and may even occasionally lock.

CT scans may be used to diagnose cervical bone spurs.
CT scans may be used to diagnose cervical bone spurs.

Activity usually worsens the symptoms of bone spurs in the neck or spine. Rest often alleviates the symptoms. Cervical bone spurs are typically diagnosed via MRI, CT scan and X-ray.

Neck pain may occur as a result of cervical bone spurs.
Neck pain may occur as a result of cervical bone spurs.
Surgery and physical therapy may be necessary to improve mobility lost to osteoarthritis-related bone spurs.
Surgery and physical therapy may be necessary to improve mobility lost to osteoarthritis-related bone spurs.
Spinal trauma may contribute to the development of cervical bone spurs.
Spinal trauma may contribute to the development of cervical bone spurs.

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