Many patients are told that they have bone spurs, or osteophytes in their back or neck. Bone spurs are simply an indication that there are increased forces on the joints of the spine. With increased forces on the intervertebral discs and facet joints in the spine, instability may occur as well. In response to this over time, the body remodels bone to decrease the stress on the joints or to increase surface area to prevent the instability.
In many cases, bone spurs and other degenerative changes may be considered the normal process of aging. The presence of bone spurs does not necessarily mean that they are the actual cause of pain. However, there are a number of common spinal conditions associated with pain that are related to the development of bone spurs. These conditions include spondylosis, cervical or lumbar radiculopathy, and spinal stenosis.
Typically bone spurs, or osteophytes, are caused by degeneration in the joints of the spine as well as part of the natural aging process. In some cases trauma, injury and osteoarthritis can cause bone spurs.
Patients with bone spurs that are symptomatic often describe stiffness in the neck, mid or lower back. This stiffness may be associated with a dull ache and possibly lack of mobility or range of motion. This lack of mobility is often noted in the neck and lower back when patients attempt to bend forwards or backwards or rotate left or right. The presence of bone spurs may be an indication of an underlying spinal condition, for example degenerative disc disease.
Depending on the extent and location of the bone spur, the nerves branching off of the spinal cord may be affected. If this is the case patients may also experience radicular symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling radiating into the arms or legs.
During office visits at the Virginia Spine Institute patients are evaluated with a detailed medical history and comprehensive physical exam. Bone spurs are often associated with other spinal conditions such as spondylosis or degenerative disc disease. Providers may be suspicious of these conditions if abnormal range of motion is noted on physical exam. Diagnosis of bone spurs can be made easily with x-ray imaging. Standing radiographs of your neck, mid, or low back will be obtained depending on the location of your symptoms. In some instances further work-up is warranted and MRI or CT scans may be ordered.
Most patients with mild or moderate nerve compression from the bone spurs can manage symptoms effectively with non-surgical care including: rest, activity modification, spine-specialized physical therapy, medications and injection therapy. If these treatments do not alleviate symptoms, surgical intervention may be considered.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.