Bone Spurs on the Spine

Bone spurs are outgrowths of bone where the ends of bones meet, usually in a joint or in the spine between the bones of the spine called vertebrae. A bone spur in the spine can put pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves leaving the spinal cord.

spinal xray

Bone spurs in the spine can cause two conditions if they continue to grow: spinal stenosis or radiculopathy.

© AROON PHUKEED | Getty Images

The medical term for a bone spur is an osteophyte, which means bone growth. Bone spurs can occur at the edges of bones, especially where they come in contact with other bones called joints. They can form on the edges of joints in your hands or feet, you may be able to see or feel an osteophyte in these joints.

Bone spurs can also form at the edges of the bones that make up your spinal column, called vertebrae. Bone spurs of the spine may not cause any symptoms and you can’t see them or feel them. But, if they grow large enough they can cause two spinal conditions. If they squeeze (compress) the spinal cord, they can cause a condition called spinal stenosis. If they squeeze the nerves leaving the spinal cord that go to your arms and legs, they can cause a condition called radiculopathy.

What causes spinal bone spurs?

By far, the most common cause of spinal bone spurs is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. It is often called “wear and tear” arthritis because it occurs over time. Joints are protected at their ends by cartilage. As cartilage wear down and thins out over years of use, bones start to rub on bones. The bones try to make more cartilage for protection, but this often results in overgrowth of bone called an osteophyte or bone spur.

Because osteoarthritis occurs over many years, it is most common in people over age 60. An injury to the spine can speed up the process. Other risk factors include being overweight, not getting enough exercise, and having bad posture. Having a job that requires years of lifting and bending may also be a risk.

What are the symptoms of spinal bone spurs?

Spinal bone spurs are common and most people do not have any symptoms, although they may show up on an x-ray. If they get large enough and cause spinal stenosis or radiculopathy symptoms occur. The most common areas for symptoms are the neck and lower back.

  • Spinal stenosis of the lower back causes burning pain and aching in the lower back and buttocks. Pain may extend down into the legs and get worse with walking or standing. There may also be weakness and numbness in the legs. Spinal stenosis of the neck causes similar pain, but the weakness and numbness occur in the arms, hands, and fingers.
  • Radiculopathy causes symptoms in the areas supplied by the nerves leaving the spine that become compressed by spinal bone spurs. Symptoms include sharp pain in the neck, shoulders, back, or legs. Pain gets worse with activity. There may also be weakness, numbness, or “pins and needles” sensations.

What is the treatment for bone spurs on the spine?

Home care may include ice, rest, and over-the-counter pain and inflammation medications called NSAIDs, like Advil or Motrin. Losing weight and staying active are also important. Physical therapy may be prescribed by a health care provider. When OTC meds and home care are not helping, injections of numbing and anti-inflammatory medications into the vertebral spaces may help. As a last resort, spinal bone spurs may be removed surgically.

Learn more about bone spurs on your feet.

Exercises for spinal bone spurs

Exercises that strengthen the spinal muscles and increase flexibility may reduce bone spur symptoms. These stretching and strengthening exercises can be started safely in physical therapy and continued at home. Losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining good posture, and staying fit and active are the best ways to prevent spinal bone spur symptoms.

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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