Spinal Stenosis and Bone Spurs in the Neck

by LMatthews on October 27, 2012


Bone spurs in the neck may cause spinal stenosis but they can also help stabilise the spine and reduce neck pain.

Bone spurs in the neck can be a cause of cervical spinal stenosis and both neck pain and other symptoms such as pain in the arm, shoulder, jaw, chest or head. Although bone spurs may appear to be an undesirable abnormal development in the spine there is often a good reason why they have formed and simply removing them could make neck pain and back problems even worse.

Why Bone Spurs Arise

Throughout life the wear and tear on the spine can overwhelm the body’s ability to repair and heal tissue trauma. Degenerative disc disease, arthritis, scoliosis and acute trauma to the spine are all ways in which spinal stenosis can arise. As one bodily tissue suffers another may try to compensate for sudden hypermobility or loss of strength and stability. This is often the case where patients have bone spurs and neck pain as the neck is much more mobile than other sections of the spine. In response to a perceived loss of stability and strength the body may begin to extend the flat surfaces of bone or grow new bone in an attempt to restore that stability.

Effects of Abnormal Bone Growth in the Spine

Unfortunately, we cannot directly communicate with the cells creating or destroying bone to tell them how to remodel our spines and, therefore, bone spurs may inadvertently make things worse and cause foraminal spinal stenosis, central canal stenosis or otherwise narrow the spinal spaces. Removing these bone spurs may provide temporary relief from pain from pinched nerves but the bony growths are likely to recur unless the underlying loss of spinal stability is also addressed. In some cases bone spurs may be successful in restoring lost stability in the spine and patients with neck pain can have a reprieve due to bone spurs, meaning that their removal may actually cause the neck pain to arise again.

Osteophytes (bone spurs) can also arise in relation to the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Whiplash
  • Spondylitis and general wear and tear
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal fracture through osteoporosis or trauma

Who Is At Risk of Bone Spurs in the Neck?

There are some occupations that increase the likelihood of cervical spinal stenosis from bone spur growth due to excess stress and pressure on the musculature and joints in the neck. Pilots (especially those experiencing significant G-Force), gymnasts, construction workers, and even professional golfers and surfers are at particular risk as repetitive and unusual movements such as twisting or extending the spine can, over time, weaken the ligaments and muscles and cause friction in the joints. As ligaments become weaker, the body may begin to harden them through calcification; the added mineral matrix being a manifest attempt by the body to stiffen the spine to restore stability.

Symptoms of Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Harder, thicker ligaments, bony growths and general wear and tear can all cause spinal stenosis and neck pain from bone spurs. In addition to the potential for bone spurs to cause pinched nerves in the neck, blood vessel occlusion can also arise, leading to:

  • muscle atrophy
  • infection following ischaemia
  • weakness
  • numbness
  • temperature irregularities in the limbs
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • neck pain

Unusual Bone Spur Symptoms

Other, less common symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis may also arise, such as laryngitis, changes in the voice and difficulty swallowing. These may also indicate compression in the neck from another source, such as thyroid gland enlargement or inflammation, infection, or even a tumor in the neck, necessitating investigation so as to apply proper treatment.

Other Possible Symptoms of Bone Spurs in the Neck

Other symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis can include numbness or pain in the little finger, or other fingers but no actual neck pain, leading many to assume that their symptoms are unconnected to the spine. Confusion, headaches, dizziness and nausea may also be attributed to cervical spinal stenosis and blood vessel occlusion in some patients. In other cases, bone spurs may be asymptomatic and patients only discover they have them after a routine x-ray or MRI for an unrelated condition.

Back Surgery for Cervical Spinal Stenosis from Osteophytes

Treatments for spinal stenosis from bone spurs in the neck are usually required to address the mechanical nature of the problem as anti-inflammatories will not normally be enough. Neck surgery may be necessary in some cases whereas other patients may be able to undergo physical therapy to strengthen the spine, restore stability and mobility and relieve the neck pain and other symptoms through chiropractic adjustment or other postural changes.

How Effective are Treatment for Bone Spurs in the Neck?

In cases where NSAIDs do help relieve symptoms significantly this is usually a sign that the bone spurs are not the primary cause of the neck pain and paraesthesia, meaning that neck surgery is unlikely to be considered appropriate for long-term relief. As misdiagnosis is a key cause of failed back surgery syndrome it is important that patients and their physicians have as thorough an understanding of the cause of their symptoms before making treatment decisions. Many people develop bone spurs and spinal stenosis in the neck during their lifetime and not all require spine surgery or even experience symptoms such as neck pain.

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