A disc osteophyte complex is a spinal abnormality that is most often caused by the normal aging process, though it may arise in a younger patient due to an autoimmune disorder or a major traumatic injury. When soft disc tissue in between vertebrae begins to break down, the area can calcify, harden, and put pressure on bones. The condition most often affects cervical vertebrae in the neck and can lead to frequent headaches, neck stiffness, and weakness in the shoulders. Treatment decisions are based on the severity of a patient's symptoms but may include medications, physical therapy, surgery, or all three.
People over the age of 55 are at the highest risk of developing this complex. As the body ages, cartilage tissue inside spinal joints naturally begins to degenerate. Disc degeneration can result in the development of bone spurs, or hard bony protrusions, in between vertebrae that rub against each other and cause further damage in the spine. Being obese and having a family history of osteoarthritis tend to increase the risk of spine problems later in life. Other conditions that may precede this condition include rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders such as hemophilia, and severe head and neck injuries.
A disc osteophyte complex may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages of development. As bone spurs begin to grow and rub on vertebrae, a person's neck might feel stiff and sore. Pain can radiate from the neck to the shoulders and arms, causing weakness and fatigue. Headaches that seem to be centered in the back of the head are common. If the complex becomes large enough to press against the spinal cord or peripheral nerves, it can cause debilitating pain or even paralysis in the upper limbs.
It is important to receive a clinical evaluation whenever neck pain becomes a persistent nuisance. A doctor can check for signs of the condition by asking about symptoms and taking x-rays of the spine. In most cases, protruding bone spurs can be recognized on diagnostic imaging tests. After confirming the diagnosis, the doctor can explain different treatment options.
Degenerative disorders that are found early can often be treated with medications. Oral anti-inflammatory drugs help to ease soreness and increase flexibility in the neck. Massage, ice, and rest are often useful in relieving symptoms as well. If a disc is severely damaged, the patient may need to receive a corticosteroid injection directly into the neck to treat inflammation. Surgery to shear bone spurs, fuse vertebrae, and decompress the spine is a final option in the case of late-stage disc osteophyte complex.