Uncovertebral hypertrophy is swelling or enlargement of the uncovertebral joints. These are joints in the neck that stabilize and allow for movement. Symptoms often include stiffness and pain.

The uncovertebral joints, or the Luschka’s joints, sit on each side of the cervical disks in the neck.

“Hypertrophy” is a term referring to the enlargement and growth of certain cells or tissues within the body.

Uncovertebral joint hypertrophy is the enlargement of the uncovertebral joints.

In this article, we look at the function of these joints. We discuss the symptoms, causes, possible complications, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and outlook for uncovertebral joint hypertrophy. We also discuss how uncovertebral hypertrophy compares to facet hypertrophy.

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The neck is made up of seven stacked bones — the cervical vertebrae.

The cervical disks lie between these bones, acting as shock absorbers and allowing for flexibility in the neck.

Uncovertebral joints are small joints that sit on each side of the cervical disks. They are not present at birth. They develop as a person grows.

The uncovertebral joints allow for flexibility, movement, and stability within the neck and limit sideways movement.

Additionally, the uncovertebral joints work to protect the spinal disks and prevent slipped disks.

Another function of these joints is to protect the intervertebral foramen. This is the passageway between vertebrae that allows nerve roots to travel through the spinal cord.

One 2021 study involving 200 male and 160 female participants found that the uncovertebral joints wear down with age. The degeneration typically begins when a person is in their 20s. It becomes more severe when people are beyond their 70s.

A 2022 study suggests that the following factors may affect the rate of degeneration:

  • sex
  • age
  • history of neck trauma

Degeneration or bone spurs in the uncovertebral joints can result in enlargement or hypertrophy.

Symptoms of uncovertebral joint hypertrophy include:

  • swelling in the neck area
  • neck pain
  • stiffness
  • a grinding or popping noise when moving the neck

A person may find that their pain is worse when they wake up in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

In some cases, a person may experience headaches and tingling or numbness in the arms, hands, or fingers.

Pain farther down the spine is also possible.

Uncovertebral joint hypertrophy is a form of arthritis.

As a person ages, they have a higher risk of developing arthritic conditions such as uncovertebral joint hypertrophy. Joint degeneration occurs as a person gets older.

Uncovertebral joint hypertrophy may also occur as a result of bone spurs.

When cartilage surrounding a joint breaks down, bones may rub against each other. This can lead to the development of bone spurs.

Bone spurs can lead to the enlargement of the uncovertebral joints, which can affect movement of the neck.

Enlargement of the uncovertebral joints may result in the narrowing of passages in the spinal cord. This could make it difficult for nerves to exit the spine.

If this occurs, it may result in one of the following conditions:

  • Spinal stenosis: This is a condition in which the spinal cord becomes narrower. This places pressure on the spinal column and nerves. It can cause pain, inflammation, weakness, and difficulty with bladder or bowel control.
  • Radiculopathy: This is also called a pinched nerve. It can damage nerve roots in the spine and result in slipped disks or disk degeneration.

One review from 2012 suggests that uncovertebral joint hypertrophy may be a significant risk factor for the development of heterotopic ossification after cervical disk replacement surgery.

Heterotopic ossification is a condition in which bone tissue develops in the soft tissues. People with the condition may feel a bony lump under the skin, which can be painful. This condition can also restrict movement.

Diagnosis of uncovertebral joint hypertrophy usually involves a physical exam. A doctor may also ask about a person’s medical and family history.

They may order blood tests to rule out other conditions.

If a doctor believes that a person may have uncovertebral joint hypertrophy, they may send the person for an imaging scan such as an X-ray, CT scan, MRI, myelogram, bone scan, or ultrasound scan. These scans allow doctors to see the extent of the damage.

A doctor might also perform a joint aspiration, which is an injection into the area to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. If the person feels pain relief after this injection, it is an indication that the joint is the source of the issue.

Joint aspiration can reduce inflammation and swelling.

Doctors may also recommend corticosteroid injections to help manage pain and swelling.

In some cases, a person may undergo a surgical procedure called a rhizotomy, which involves the removal of painful nerve fibers responsible for sending pain signals to the brain.

A person may also be able to manage pain by:

  • using hot and cold packs
  • taking pain medications
  • visiting a physical therapist
  • wearing a soft cervical collar for support and to reduce neck movement

A person can help prevent uncovertebral joint hypertrophy and other neck degenerative disorders by:

  • maintaining good posture
  • eating a healthy diet
  • seeking support to stop smoking, if necessary
  • drinking plenty of water
  • exercising regularly
  • strengthening the core muscles to remove pressure on the spine and neck

The effects of uncovertebral joint hypertrophy are not fatal. The condition is treatable either at home or with medical intervention.

However, some people may experience complications.

Facet joint hypertrophy is similar to uncovertebral hypertrophy and involves nearby joints.

The facet joints sit in the neck, where two vertebrae meet. These joints help with neck movement, particularly bending and twisting.

The facet joints can also swell and become enlarged.

Uncovertebral joint hypertrophy is a condition in which the uncovertebral joint becomes bigger than usual. It results in pain, inflammation, and limited neck movement.

This can occur as a result of natural degeneration. Neck trauma, injury, and poor posture may also play a role in the development of the condition.

Treatment at home is possible. In some cases, people with this condition may need medical intervention such as corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, or surgery.