Having bone spurs in the neck or cervical osteophytes can be so painful that it affects a person’s day to day life. While the development of neck bone spurs is generally considered a relatively benign condition occurring in people greater than 60 years old, they may eventually lead to neurological dysfunctions that may cause a range of symptoms.
Bone spurs (osteophytes) commonly form in the neck, shoulder, feet, knees, and fingers. However, when they develop between the C1 through C7 vertebrae of the spine, they can constrict nerve pathways, leading to complications.
Causes of neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
The primary cause of bone spurs in the neck is damage or inflammation of ligament and tendons around the cervical spine and its various joints. The gradual degradation of joints is a common occurrence as we get older, whereby the cartilage that once protected it wears out. This can be especially prevalent with the discs that sit in between cervical spinal vertebra that break down with constant use and as we age.
The inflammation that results simulates new bone formation in these areas of damage, eventually leading to the development of a bone spur.
The breakdown and rebuilding of bone leading to the development of bone spurs can be caused by other diseases and health conditions. These may include cervical spondylosis, untreated herniated disc or slipped disc, osteoarthritis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH).
Additionally, injuries, birth defects involving bones, poor posture, obesity, and malnutrition may lead to bone deterioration and lead to the development of bone spurs in various parts of the body including the neck.
Symptoms of neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
Depending on the size and location of bone spurs, symptoms may range from but are not limited to the following. However, most people with bone spurs do not present with any symptoms.
- Dull neck pain
- Neck stiffness: Associated with decrease mobility if the pain is experienced when turning your head from side to side.
- Headaches: Due to a bone spur pushing against a cervical nerve root.
- Radicular pain: Shock-like pain that radiates to into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand, typically on one side of the body.
- Neurological problems: Numbness or tingling in one or both arms and/or hands. Weakness in these areas may also be a feature,
- Myelopathy: Injury to the spine due to severe compression, often leading to balance and coordination issues, shock-like pain thought the arms and/or legs, weakness and/or numbness throughout the body, and possible loss of bladder and bowel control.
- Dysphagia: Progressive difficulty swallowing due to mechanical obstruction or by impinging on mobile structures such as the cricoid cartilage.
Diagnosis of neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
The discovery of a bone spur is often an incidental finding that shows up in imagining studies. This is because most people don’t realize they have them and the fact that they don’t cause any pain. In the majority of cases, a patient would see their doctor with unexplainable neck pain or tingling and weakness in their arms or hands, which will then prompt a neurological examination.
If symptoms worsen or persist for extended periods of time, more diagnostic imagining may be ordered looking for the potential causes of the neurological symptoms.
Advanced diagnostic testing may include:
- X-ray: Often the first imaging test ordered to get a looking at the bone structure of the area of interest
- MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging is often ordered when a more detailed image is required, like in the case of an x-ray being inconclusive. MRIs are great for getting a detailed look at soft tissue.
- Electrodiagnostic testing: A never conduction study that can test the nerves’ electrical activity. This can be useful for determining the location of problem nerves.
Treatments for neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
Non-symptomatic bone spurs do not require any treatment, however, if they do become symptomatic, several treatment options are available. These include:
- Activity modification: Limiting strenuous activities and getting an adequate amount of rest can help. Learning to keep better posture, such as sitting with your back straight while at your desk or taking frequent breaks from sitting, can help relieve symptoms
- Physical therapy: Finding a qualified health professional who can design specifically tailored exercises to promote strength and flexibility may help reduce neck pain.
- Hot/Cold therapy: Directly applying warmth or cooling to the neck area may help reduce pain for some individuals. This may be achieved using reusable ice or a heated gel pack, but a warm shower can also do the trick.
- Medication or injections: Anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants can offer pain relief to those with excruciating symptoms. If oral forms of pain relievers are insufficient, your doctor may choose to directly inject medication near the problematic area, reducing inflammation and blocking the pain signal to the brain.
- Manual manipulation: Adjustments done to the cervical spine in an effort to reduce pain and/or improve mobility. This is only recommended to be performed by a chiropractor, osteopathic physician, or other qualified health professional.
Exercises for neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
- Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and then slowly bend your neck to the right, bring your ear to your shoulder
- Now, slowly make clockwise circles five times then bring your head back to neutral position
- Bring your head to your left side, but this time making counterclockwise rotations.
- Begin by looking straight forward
- Slowly raise both shoulders straight up, holding this position for five seconds, then returning to the starting position
- Repeat this exercise 10 times
Neck forward flexion
- Being by looking straight forward then slowly lower your chin to your chest
- Hold this position for five seconds, then return to starting position
- Repeat this exercise 10 times
Neck resistance exercise
- Begin by placing your hand on the side of your head, keeping it firm and stationary
- Create resistance by pushing your head toward your shoulder, but your hand will be stopping you
- How this position of resistance for five seconds before relaxing and repeating the exercise on the opposite side
- Perform this exercise 10 time on each side of the head
Natural remedies for neck bone spurs (cervical osteophytes)
Calcarea phosphorica: A mixture of several complex calcium phosphates often used as a deep-acting healing remedy for a wide range of symptoms. It can be effective for speeding up wound healing and reducing pain from old fractures. It may also be effective in those suffering from joint pain, bone pain, and spurs found in the neck that present with pain and numbness. This remedy works by mineralizing the matrix of the dense outer shell of bones with minute crystals of calcium phosphate, strengthening them. Calcarea phosphorica is most effective when taken three times a day for a month, with older people finding the most benefit.
- Cold compress: Can help reduce inflammation and relax muscles of the affected area.
- Ginger: Packed with anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce swelling and pain. Ginger can be consumed via tea three times a day to reap its effects. It can also be massaged into your skin several times a day. Ginger may also be found in capsule form
- Apple cider vinegar: Contains anti-inflammatory properties helping to relieve pain and swelling. It can be added to water and consumed or applied to the affected area with a paper towel
- Flaxseed: Contains alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, which can help alleviate inflammation and pain. Flaxseed can be included in your diet to utilize its beneficial properties, but it may be also used directly on the skin while in its oil form.
- Chamomile: A excellent remedy for relieving pain and discomfort, owing to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Chamomile can be consumed as a tea or you can wait until this liquid has cooled down to apply it to the affected area.
- Epsom salt: The magnesium-sulfate crystals found in Epsom salts can significantly relieve pain and inflammation. It is commonly added to warm baths to benefit from its effects.
- Dietary changes: A healthy diet should contain omega=3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, as well as vitamin E, D, and K. These dietary elements can help to decrease inflammation caused by bone spurs. Additional, vitamin K and D help to strengthen bone, while calcium and magnesium are essential for bone mineralization.
- Milk: Drinking milk regularly help to provide the body with calcium and vitamin D which helps with bone mineralization and the treatment of bone spurs
- Coconut oil: Can be warmed up and applied to the affected area for its pain relieving properties
- Baking soda: By making a paste with some water, apply it to the affected area. This will help relieve that pain that bone spurs may cause.
- Cabbage: By warming up cabbage leaves, they can be applied to the affected area helping to relieve inflammation.