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Bone Spurs and Back Pain
Bone Spurs and Back Pain

Bone spurs, known medically as osteophytes, are bony growths that usually develop slowly over time along bones.  They do not really resemble pointed spurs but are generally smooth and round.  Spinal bone spurs may form on the vertebrae, in the joints, and even where ligaments and tendons attach to the bones.  As people age, the development of bone spurs is quite common, particularly in those with osteoarthritis.  Extra pressure on a joint or friction from bone rubbing bone can cause spurs.  As cartilage around the ends of the bones is broken down, the body deposits new bone to try to repair the damage.  Spinal bone spurs are often seen on x-rays and medical scans that may be done to diagnose other spinal conditions.

Symptoms of Bone Spurs

Bone spurs may cause no symptoms at all.  People may have them for years and never know.  However, spurs may cause pain or loss of motion depending on their location.  In the spine, osteophytes can cause a narrowing around the spinal cord.  This condition is known as spinal stenosis.  Bone spurs may pinch or compress the spinal cord or surrounding nerves, causing pain or numbness in the spine or extremities.

  • Cervical bone spurs (neck)-  There may be pain, tingling, or numbness in the shoulders or in one or both arms.  There may be headaches that originate at the back or side of the neck.
  • Lumbar bone spurs (low back)-  There may be weakness in the legs or pain when standing or walking.  The pain may be relieved when sitting.  Spurs may cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the thighs or buttocks.

Diagnosis of Osteophytes

Diagnostic tests include x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.  An x-ray may indicate the need for additional imaging tests.  Because back pain can have many causes, the physician will generally want to rule out other possible diagnoses when determining whether a bone spur is responsible for the symptoms.

Non-Surgical Treatment of Bone Spurs

Mild or moderate symptoms may be managed with rest and medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).  These medications are often not recommended for long term use.  Physical therapy, or functional rehabilitation, and exercise may relieve pain, increase range of motion, and reduce pressure on the nerves.  Spinal manipulation may also be helpful.  Facet joint injections can reduce pain and inflammation, allowing the affected area to heal.  Pain relief is temporary, and up to three injections may be given in a year.  These conservative approaches are recommended before surgery is considered. 

Surgical Options

Surgery may be recommended if non-surgical treatments have been unsuccessful.  Bone spurs can be removed surgically.  The surgeon may also recommend a laminectomy, a procedure in which the lamina and spinous process at the back of the spine are removed.  This enlarges the spinal canal and provides more room for the spinal cord.  Another surgical procedure used to relieve nerve root compression is a foraminotomy, where bone tissue around the foramen is shaved away.  This procedure reduces pressure on the nerves caused by the bone spur and relieves pain.

The physicians at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experienced in diagnosing and treating spinal bone spurs.  Dr. Michele M. Johnson specializes in these procedures.  Contact us today to learn about your treatment options.

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