Bone spurs, or osteophytes, can protrude from the bones of the vertebral column and cause unpleasant symptoms. Others are less problematic. Asymptomatic osteophytes, the medical term for symptomless bone spurs, cause no symptoms at all and may only be detected when the patient is x-rayed for some unrelated health matter. Osteophytes that grow within the cervical spine, or neck, have the potential to cause a number of problems.
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Nerves that pass through the cervical spine descend into the torso and exit through openings in the vertebral column to conduct nerve impulses from the brain to the body and back again. Bone spurs in the neck can affect the sensory nerves that detect pain. Dr. John Schneider, a neurosurgeon writing for the website Spine-Health, explains that cervical osteophytes may cause a dull pain in the neck, or a radiating pain that shoots into the shoulders and can cause headaches. Activity tends to exacerbate the pain, while rest relieves it.
Numbness or Paresthesia
Bone spurs that compress the nerves, may impede sensory nerve impulses from reaching the brain. A lack of sensory input can translate to numbness in the area supplied by the affected nerve. Paresthesia is another potential sensory result of nerve impingement in the neck. Paresthesia is a tingly, pins-and-needles feeling that is often experienced when a limb has fallen asleep after being held in an awkward position for too long.
When a bone spur protrudes into the spinal canal, it can cause a condition known as spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the passageway through which the spinal cord descends. This can impinge the cord and cause spinal cord dysfunction, or myelopathy, according to Spine-Health.
Cervical stenosis caused by bone spurs can result in symptoms of muscle weakness that extend as far down as the legs, causing them to feel heavy. A person with cervical spinal stenosis may have difficulty walking or, in rare cases, experience muscle paralysis.
At times, a large bone spur of the cervical spine can be linked to the presence of throat symptoms such as difficulty and pain when attempting to swallow. Dr. Ausama Alaani of the Ear Nose and Throat Department of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the UK explains that large osteophytes in this region may obstruct or impinge cartilage in the throat, or cause muscle spasms or inflammation of the area.