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 also are 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 pain, 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 week or months of conservative treatment, a doctor might recommend surgery as an option. Contact Laser Spine Institute (LSI) to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure using endoscopic technology can help people suffering from symptoms associated with bone spurs can rediscover a life without pain.