Understanding Bone Spurs on the Spine

Imagine your bones as smooth, sturdy pillars supporting your body. Bone spurs are like unwanted bumps that develop on these pillars, sometimes due to the body’s attempt to heal itself after an injury. These bony growths can form on any bone, but they’re particularly common in areas like the feet, ankles, shoulders and spine, places that frequently experience stress and impact.

Bone spurs in the spine, also known as spinal osteophytes, develop over time on the edges of the vertebrae. Despite their name, they don’t actually resemble spurs and are usually quite smooth. They’re quite common, especially as we age, and often don’t cause any symptoms at all.

However, sometimes these bony growths can press on nearby nerves or the spinal cord, leading to:

  • Pain: This is the most common symptom and can be located in the neck, upper back, middle back, or lower back, depending on the location of the bone spur. The pain can be sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, and worsen with certain movements.
  • Stiffness: Bone spurs can limit the range of motion in the affected area of the spine, making it difficult to bend, twist, or turn.
  • Tingling or numbness: If a nerve is compressed by a bone spur, you may experience tingling or numbness in the area supplied by that nerve.
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness can occur if a nerve is compressed by a bone spur.

Causes of Bone Spurs in the Spine

While bone spurs are often associated with aging, they can also arise due to various factors. Our spines are intricate structures, with vertebrae stacked upon each other, connected by facet joints that enable movement. These joints can be stressed, and bone spurs can occur due to various reasons, including:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common cause of bone spurs in the spine. As cartilage in the joints between the vertebrae wears away due to osteoarthritis, the body tries to repair the damage by forming new bone, which can lead to bone spurs.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This condition occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. Bone spurs can contribute to spinal stenosis by further narrowing the spinal canal.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS): In AS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints between the individual spinal vertebrae, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. This inflammation can damage the cartilage and bone. As the inflammation in your spine persists, your body tries to heal itself by laying down extra bone tissue around the affected joints. This extra bone growth forms the characteristic bone spurs that can bridge the gap between vertebrae.
  • Trauma: When trauma strikes, like a fracture or damage to the joints and ligaments, the body goes into overdrive to repair the damage. This repair process involves laying down new bone tissue. While this is crucial for healing, sometimes the body overcompensates, creating more bone than needed. This excess bone hardens and forms a bone spur.

Diagnosing Bone Spurs in the Spine

If you suspect you have spinal bone spurs, consulting your doctor is the first step. They will likely conduct a thorough physical examination, assessing your range of motion, tenderness, and other signs. Additionally, your doctor might inquire about your medical history and any potential risk factors such as injuries or arthritis.

Additionally, to confirm you have bone spurs and identify their location, the next step is usually imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can be used to visualize bone spurs and assess the extent of any spinal stenosis.

Treating Your Spurs

The good news is that even with a diagnosis of spinal bone spurs, various treatment options are available depending on the severity of your symptoms and their underlying cause. Non-surgical options are usually tried first and may include:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications: These can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Chiropractic and Physical Therapy: Exercises can help improve flexibility and range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the spine to support it better.
  • Steroid injections: Injections of corticosteroids into the epidural space around the spinal cord can provide temporary pain relief.

If non-surgical treatments are not effective and the spurs are causing significant pain or nerve damage, surgery may be considered. Surgery typically involves removing the bone spur to relieve pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.


Diagnosing bone spurs on the spine involves a collaborative effort between you and your doctor. By understanding the symptoms, potential diagnostic tests, and available treatment options, you can actively participate in managing your spinal health and achieve optimal well-being. If you’d like to learn more about bone spurs, you can visit this Mayo Clinic website or read this article. You can also schedule a consultation with me to learn more about your spinal health.

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