Cervical osteophytes are bone spurs that grow on any of the seven vertebrae in the cervical spine (neck), ranging from the base of the skull, C1 vertebra, to the base of the neck, C7 vertebra.
The term "bone spurs" might elicit images of radiating spikes, but bone spurs (osteophytes) are actually rounded and scalloped. The outer edge of a vertebra with bone spurs can resemble the hem of a ruffled dress or dripped wax built-up at the bottom of a candle.
Osteophytes in the spine are a normal sign of aging and can be associated with conditions such as degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and others. Osteophytes are not a cause for concern unless they result in pain or neurological symptoms—such as tingling, numbness, or weakness—that can sometimes radiate from the neck into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand.
Cervical Osteophyte Formation (Cervical Spondylosis)
Bones are constantly renewing, like fingernails and hair. However, inflamed or damaged tissues can abnormally influence nearby bone growth. As a result of these abnormal influences, osteophyte formation occurs when new bone cells are deposited where they would not normally grow.
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Cervical osteophyte formation typically occurs when ligaments and tendons around the cervical spine’s bones and joints are damaged or inflamed. This process usually happens with wear and tear over time.
The inflamed or damaged tissue that stimulates cervical osteophyte growth is often caused by cervical osteoarthritis, a degradation in the neck joints that occurs in many older people. These joints include the disc spaces themselves (a modified joint), the facet joints, and the uncovertebral joints (in levels C3 through C7). Sometimes cervical osteoarthritis is also referred to as cervical spondylosis.
Other types of arthritis, traumatic injury, and poor posture can also lead to osteophyte formation.