Uncovertebral joint osteophytes, or bone spurs, occur where the vertebral bodies of the third through seventh cervical vertebrae meet. These five stacked neck vertebrae are connected at four cartilage-covered joints – a pair of facet joints located on the articular processes on either side, and a pair of uncovertebral joints formed where small ridges of bone, called the uncinate processes, rise off the top edge of the cylindrical vertebral body. The uncovertebral joints are also referred to as Luschka joints or neurocentral joints.
Causes and consequences of uncovertebral joint osteophytes
Components of the spinal anatomy begin to wear down over time. Bone loss, disc degeneration, osteoarthritis and other spinal conditions place excess stress on the aging vertebrae. The body responds by growing bony nodules called osteophytes, or bone spurs, to compensate for diminished spinal stability. Bone spurs are common and do not exhibit symptoms in most cases.
However, when osteophytes grow in confined areas adjacent to nerve roots or the spinal cord, nerve compression can occur. Because the uncinate processes are located near the foramina – channels where nerve roots exit the spinal canal – bone spurs that develop at the uncovertebral joints may cause a condition known as foraminal stenosis. Should this narrowing of the foraminal canal lead to nerve compression, it might produce symptoms such as localized or radiating pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.
Treatment for uncovertebral joint osteophytes
Conservative treatments, such as pain medication and physical therapy, can manage most cases of nerve compression due to bone spurs. If chronic pain persists after weeks or months of conservative treatment, a physician may recommend surgery as an option. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help people experiencing symptoms associated with bone spurs to find relief from neck and back pain.