What Is a Disc Osteophyte Complex?

Obesity is a risk factor in the development of spine issues such as disc osteophyte complex.
Older people are more at risk of disc osteophyte complex, which typically begins with neck soreness.
A major traumatic injury can cause disc osteophyte complex in people of any age.
A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteophytes.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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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.

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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.

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Discuss this Article

anon956621
Post 5

I have had a burning pain in my left buttock. I have been told I have -- and am being treated for -- sciatica. I had a laminectomy at L3-5 four years ago, and now the burning pain is bilateral. I don't understand.

anon946525
Post 4

I went to the doctor and they said for the severity of my problems I need surgery, but since I have eds it would be worse due to hyper mobility. So I received no treatment at all!

Mor
Post 3

@Ana1234 - Research is one of the best weapons against that sort of thing. If you've got a lot of information about the cervical disc osteophyte complex and you know what they need to do to check for it, they are going to be more likely to do what you ask. That's especially true if you can list off the symptoms for it and explain that you have those as well.

If you go into the doctor and just say you've got some pain, then you'll end up being given some painkillers and shown the door.

Ana1234
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - I think the problem is that often the doctor isn't going to take you seriously. An older person going in and complaining about back or neck pain might just be told to take a bit of pain medication and sent away again. This is particularly true if the person in pain is overweight.

In fact I've heard of a woman who needed spinal disc surgery and was told that she was exaggerating her pain and that it all stemmed from the fact that she was fat. After days of agony they finally x-rayed her spine and then rushed her into emergency surgery when they realized there actually was something wrong.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't go to the doctor if you are in pain. Just be prepared to fight for your right to treatment.

lluviaporos
Post 1

You really have to be vigilant against these kinds of things as you get older. If you have any kind of persistent ache, you should take yourself to the doctor. Often the sooner you get it treated the more likely it is to be fixed.

And disc pain really is the worst. My father put up with it for years and it just wore him down. It makes me sad to think that he might have been able to get proper help for it, but he just hated going to the doctor.

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