Bone spurs are areas of smooth, excess bone that can develop as you get older. Cedars-Sinai says that they’re most common and noticeable in adults who are more than 60 years old. Bone spurs can develop anywhere in your body from:

  • natural wear and tear on your bones and joints
  • underlying medical conditions
  • injuries

While bone spurs alone aren’t typically painful, these growths in your neck can become symptomatic as they press down on nerve endings in your spine and cause pain or discomfort when you move your neck.

It’s estimated that about 40 percent of people with bone spurs will need treatment for their symptoms. Learn more about the symptoms and causes of bone spurs in the neck and what you can do about them if your symptoms are extremely painful and interfere with your daily activities.

Bone spurs in your neck may not cause any symptoms at first. But as bone spurs get bigger, you may notice:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • a visible lump you may feel to the touch

As bone spurs progress, they can cause more severe symptoms that may affect your quality of life.

You should seek medical help if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

  • chronic dull pain
  • pain that radiates from the bottom of your neck to your head
  • headaches
  • numbness or tingling that may extend to your arms and hands
  • muscle spasms that may radiate to your shoulders
  • stiffness and reduced range of motion (such as turning your neck side to side)

If a bone spur in your neck is suspected, a doctor will likely recommend imaging tests, such as X-rays. This can help confirm any areas of excess bone growth along your cervical spine.

Here are a few examples of what X-rays of bone spurs in your neck may look like.

Bone spurs have many causes. A 2017 research review showed that they’re more common with age.

Depending on where they’re located in your body, lifestyle can be a factor. For example, bone spurs on the feet may be caused by high impact exercises or overweight.

Specific risk factors for bone spurs in the neck may include:

  • history of sports injuries
  • car accidents, or other incidents causing whiplash
  • overuse injuries, especially from desk jobs
  • heredity
  • ankylosing spondylitis
  • diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) spine

One 2020 study with animals showed that bone spurs are also commonly seen in cases of osteoarthritis (OA). This type of arthritis is prevalent with age and can cause joints to break down over time.

OA may directly impact your neck, but it’s also possible for it to affect your vertebrae in other parts of your spine. When pressure is placed on your spine, bone spurs may grow between vertebrae, resulting in neck pain.

Arthritis of the neck is also known as cervical spondylitis. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says that about 85 percent of adults 60 years and older will develop this condition. Bone spurs can develop as a result of joint wear and tear.

The American College of Rheumatology says that other common sources of neck pain in general include conditions that involve your spine, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. These may create bone spurs, but this type of complication isn’t as common in your neck. Neck bone spurs may also be seen in cases of cervical (neck) stenosis.

To diagnose a bone spur in the neck, a doctor will first perform a physical exam. They may ask you questions about any symptoms you have and test the range of motion of your neck. A bone spur on the neck may be confirmed via imaging tests, such as:

  • X-rays
  • computed tomography (CT) scans
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs)

The tests can also help diagnose underlying causes, such as OA.

Your doctor may also recommend an electroconductive test to help detect nerve injuries in your spinal cord. Blood testing may also be ordered to rule out the possibility of other underlying diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment for bone spurs depends on the severity of your symptoms and overall condition.

More mild cases may be treated with one or more of the following options:

  • rest
  • cold compresses to reduce pain
  • steroid shots to decrease inflammation and subsequent pain
  • over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to be used on a temporary basis only
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol) for mild pain
  • physical therapy to increase range of motion (scheduled up to three times per week for 2 months)
  • massage therapy to help manage pain

In more severe cases where symptoms don’t respond to therapy and medication, a doctor may recommend cervical spine (neck) surgery.

The type of surgery for neck bone spurs will vary based on the underlying cause and location — some examples include:

  • spinal fusion to seal two or more vertebrae back together
  • anterior cervical discectomy to remove spurs and discs through the front of your neck
  • anterior cervical corpectomy to remove and replace vertebrae when bone spurs can’t be eliminated via discectomy
  • posterior cervical laminectomy to remove the lamina on the back of your neck and help get rid of bone spurs that may be pressing on spinal nerves

A doctor will go over all the benefits and risks of bone spur removal surgery with you. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons says that while uncommon, surgery carries the risk of nerve and spinal cord damage as well as increased pain.

Rest is important for neck pain. But a doctor may refer you to a physical therapist who can guide you through exercises to help:

  • decrease pain
  • improve range of motion in your neck
  • build strength and improve posture

Below are two suggested neck exercises from the North American Spine Society that you may wish to discuss with a doctor or therapist.

Neck retractions

While either in a seated or standing position, keep your head in a forward-facing position while gently pressing your fingers against your chin. You should feel a stretch along the back of your neck.

Hold this position for up to 2 seconds at a time, up to 10 times in a row. The North American Spine Society says that you may repeat these retractions up to four times per day.

Correct posture

Your physical therapist will also help you learn how to maintain a correct posture to improve your symptoms. Try this throughout the day by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Align your ears directly above your shoulders.
  • Create space in the neck without shrugging your shoulders upward.
  • Roll your shoulders back.
  • Prevent your head and chin from falling forward.

Bone spurs in the neck aren’t painful by themselves. But these bone growths can press on nerves over time, causing pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.

Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing chronic neck pain so that you can obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Bone spurs and other related conditions, such as OA, may be diagnosed with a physical exam and imaging tests.

You can help manage bone spurs with a combination of prescribed medications, rest, and neck exercises. Stay on top of your treatment plan and contact a doctor or physical therapist if your pain doesn’t improve.