Cervical osteophytes, which are known as neck bone spurs, can cause pain, stiffness, and limited movement. Removing these bone spurs through surgery can help alleviate symptoms and improve mobility in the neck.

Bone spurs are bony projections that develop on the edges of bones, potentially due to age-related degeneration or injury. While often occurring without symptoms, bone spurs in the neck can compress nearby nerves or the spinal cord, leading to pain and other symptoms.

When conservative treatments, such as physical therapy and pain medication, fail to provide relief, doctors may recommend surgery as a treatment option.

This article explains neck bone spur removal, including the surgical procedures, recovery process, and potential risks and complications.

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The primary purpose of surgery to remove neck bone spurs is to ease symptoms due to bone spurs compressing nerves or the spinal cord in the neck.

These symptoms can include:

Neck bone spur removal is not a first-line treatment but may be necessary when conservative measures fail to provide relief.

The type of surgery someone receives for neck bone spur removal depends on the location and severity of the spurs and the individual’s needs.

Procedures for neck bone spur removal may include:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy: This minimally invasive procedure removes the affected disk and bone spurs through a small incision in the front of the neck.
  • Anterior cervical corpectomy: Doctors may perform this procedure when multiple disk levels are involved or when a vertebra needs partial removal. It involves removing the affected vertebral body and any bone spurs to decompress the spinal cord.
  • Posterior microdiscectomy: Doctors may use this procedure if bone spurs and a herniated disk contribute to symptoms. This procedure removes the bone spurs and a portion of the herniated disk through a small incision in the back of the neck.
  • Posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion: This surgery removes bone spurs and part of the vertebral lamina, known as the bone roof, via a back incision, creating space to decompress nerves and the spinal cord.

Before undergoing neck bone spur removal surgery, a person will typically undergo a comprehensive evaluation that may include imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans to assess the extent and location of the bone spurs.

Doctors may also ask the person to adjust their medications before surgery and provide instructions on fasting or limiting food and drink intake before the procedure.

The recovery time from neck bone spur removal surgery can vary depending on the individual and the specific procedure they undergo.

It is important for a person to follow their healthcare team’s postoperative instructions, which may include:

Although some discomfort is a typical part of recovery, people experiencing persistent or worsening pain, swelling, skin discoloration, or signs of infection need to contact a doctor immediately.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, surgery is more likely to help people with progressive neurologic symptoms, such as:

A 2019 study examined 14 people with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, due to bone spurs in their necks. It found that they all experienced significant improvement in symptoms after surgical neck bone spur removal through a standard anterior approach.

While complications are rare, the potential risks of neck bone spur removal surgery include:

  • infection
  • nerve damage
  • chronic pain
  • continuation of symptoms
  • pseudarthrosis, which is the failed fusion of bones
  • spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis
  • damage to the esophagus, trachea, or vocal cords
  • damage to arteries resulting in stroke
  • swallowing or speech difficulties
  • cerebral spinal fluid leakage
  • decreased range of motion

Risks of non-treatment

Without treatment, people may experience worsening symptoms such as:

  • chronic pain
  • nerve compression
  • limitations in neck movement

In severe cases, untreated nerve compression can lead to permanent neurological damage, including muscle weakness or loss of sensation.

Below are answers to common questions about neck bone spur removal surgery.

How painful is bone spur surgery?

Pain from neck bone spur removal may vary due to individual pain tolerance and procedure type. People may experience immediate postoperative pain, discomfort at the surgical site, and flare-ups of pain.

Doctors may recommend over-the-counter pain relief or may prescribe stronger pain relief.

How long does neck bone spur surgery take?

The duration of neck bone spur surgery depends on several factors, including the type of surgery, the severity of the condition, and whether any unforeseen complications arise.

Most surgeries take at least 1 hour. However, complex cases involving extensive bone spurs, multiple disk levels, or additional procedures may take longer.

Neck bone spurs can cause pain, stiffness, and restricted movement. Treatments such as physical therapy can provide relief in some cases, though doctors may recommend surgery for people who continue to experience significant discomfort.

The specific surgery a person undergoes may depend on the extent and location of bone spurs in their neck. People can speak with a doctor about the best type of surgery for their case.

Without treatment, symptoms due to bone spurs in the neck may worsen, leading to permanent nerve damage or limited mobility.