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What Are Spinal Bone Spurs?

Spinal bone spurs do not necessarily cause neck or back pain, but they often do. These smooth bony deposits can form on the spinal joints as a result of age-related degeneration. Over time, the cartilage in the facet joints slowly breaks down and wears away, leaving the bone surfaces exposed and allowing them to grind together. The production of bone spurs, or osteophytes, is the body’s natural, protective response. While spinal bone spurs do not always require treatment, pain can develop if bony tissue irritates or pinches a nearby spinal nerve.

What are the symptoms of a spinal bone spur that causes nerve compression?

A compressed spinal nerve can produce a number of symptoms, which can vary based on the location of the affected nerve and the amount of pressure it is under. For instance, spinal bone spurs can cause nerve compression that leads to:

  • Neck or back pain
  • Pain, tingling sensations or muscle weakness in the arms or legs
  • Headaches
  • Reduced range of motion in the spine
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence (in very severe cases)

Because these symptoms can be very similar to those produced by arthritis, muscle strains and other conditions, it is important to see a physician for a proper diagnosis prior to beginning treatment.

How are painful spinal bone spurs treated?

When spinal bone spurs require treatment, a nonsurgical approach is usually sufficient. Physical therapy can be helpful for increasing the strength of the muscles that support the spine, which can help shift painful pressure away from a compressed nerve. When the pain flares, an ice pack or heating pad can be applied as needed. Additionally, a physician may prescribe a pain reliever, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), muscle relaxant or epidural steroid injection. While the relief achieved with conservative therapy will be temporary, these treatments can be repeated as part of a long-term pain management plan.

If spinal bone spurs cause persistent neck or back pain that interferes with daily activities, a surgical procedure may be considered, such as a laminectomy, to remove the problematic bone spurs and permanently relieve the resulting nerve compression.

If you’d like to explore your options for treating painful spinal bone spurs, Advanced Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Houston, Texas, to set up a personal consultation with a spine specialist.