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.
X-rays of the spine will be part of a clinical evaluation of neck pain.
Frequent headaches are a common symptom of disc osteophyte complex.
A picture of a healthy spine and one with osteophytes.
A gel pack can be used to soothe neck soreness caused by disc osteophyte complex.
Article Details
  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2015
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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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.


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

Post 8

I have been suffering with neck pain for over six months, telling my doctor and he told me to take Aleve. I finally had to make another appointment but this time got a PA, and she was awesome. She gave me a better exam than my doctor did, ordered all these tests and then found I have bone spurs in my neck from t1 to c4-c7, with numbness down my right arm, and severe burning across my right shoulder and jaw pain and sometimes eye pain as well. I'm going to see a orthopedic spine doctor. Hopefully, he will help me manage my pain. I am sick of taking medication. I just want a shot in my neck so I can continue to work.

Post 7

For over 15 years I have been going to my doctor complaining about back pain. Must have some pulled muscles he would say. Now that I cant stand the pain anymore I took matters into my own hands and paid for MRI and CT scan out of my own pocket to find out my back is a mess. 5 bulging discs nerve root compression degenerative discs bone spurs. If he would just had listened to me and ordered some test maybe I wouldn't be in this shape. Don't trust the Doc. It's not his back that hurts.

Post 6

As per MRI Report, C4-C5 shows osteophytic disc complex with a mild disc bulge causing anterior thecal sac indentation without causing neural foraminal narrowing or nerve root impingement.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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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