While it’s most common for cervical pain to be from spinal degeneration associated with aging or natural wear and tear from years of daily activities, it’s possible for this process to be accelerated by an injury. For instance, an injury to a joint in the neck could cause arthritis to develop sooner.
Cervical Degeneration: Bone Spurs and Cervical Osteoarthritis
Bone spurs (medically known as osteophytes) are smooth structures that can grow on bones and cause enlargement of joints, such as the small, stabilizing facet joints that are located between and behind the adjacent cervical vertebrae. Bone spurs tend to occur in adults over 60 years of age.
See Bone Spur Causes
Patients with cervical bone spurs may or may not have symptoms, which could include neck pain) and/or referred pain and weakness in the arms and the legs. For example, patients with cervical bone spurs may experience dull neck pain that occurs when standing. In some instances, the pain may be referred to the shoulders or prompt headaches.
However, it must be emphasized that the presence of bone spurs alone does not necessarily mean this is what is generating a patient's pain. Most bones spurs are simply radiographic (x-ray ) findings indicating a patient has degeneration in the neck.
Bone spurs may form as the result of cervical osteoarthritis, a condition marked by degeneration and breakdown of the cartilage between the facet joints in the cervical spine. With cervical osteoarthritis (also known as cervical arthritis), different symptoms may occur, such as pain that:
- Refers to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
- Feels worse at certain times of the day (early in the morning, late at night)
- Calms with rest.
Rarely requiring surgery (such as when there is a vertebral fracture in the neck), cervical osteoarthritis is typically treated via rest, pain medications, chiropractic and/or traction.
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Common Degeneration Location: Joints of Luschka
The joints of Luschka, also called uncovertebral joints, are small joints located on a part of the vertebra that is susceptible to degeneration and bone spur growth.
Over time, these bone spurs can grow large enough to start irritating nearby nerve roots. This overgrowth of the joints of Luschka is one of the most common causes of foraminal stenosis—a narrowing of the bony hole in the vertebra where the spinal nerve root needs space to pass through without being impeded.