Spinal Problems Bone Osteophytes

Osteophytes, or bone spurs, are smooth growths of bone that form over a prolonged period of time. Many people develop bone spurs on the spine as they age, and the osteophytes themselves are not painful. Just because a doctor finds osteophytes on your X-rays doesn’t mean the spurs are causing any symptoms you may be experiencing: symptoms occur only if bone spurs impinge nerves or the spinal cord.

The spine, which is designed to protect the spinal cord, consists of vertebrae (bones) separated by gel-like discs. Behind each disc and under each spinal joint are openings (foramen) where nerve roots leave the spinal cord to go to other parts of the body.

Bone spurs that develop in a foramen cause the space to narrow (foraminal stenosis) and press on the nerve. Bone spurs that protrude into the spinal canal can lead to narrowing (spinal stenosis), which causes pressure on the spinal cord.

Causes of Osteophytes

In addition to aging, other factors that contribute to the formation of bone spurs include:

  • Disc and joint degeneration (including arthritis)
  • Heredity
  • Injuries
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor posture
  • Structural problems.

Symptoms of Bone Spurs

The most common symptoms of bone spurs are back or neck pain due to inflamed joints and tender back muscles. Rest tends to lessen pain, while activity tends to worsen it. Other possible symptoms of osteophytes include:

  • Burning or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Dull pain in the neck or lower back when standing or walking
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness.

Cervical osteophytes may also cause headaches or radiating pain into the shoulders.

Lumbar osteophytes can cause radiating pain in the buttocks and thighs, so you may feel better leaning forward and bending at the waist. If the bone spurs are causing severe pressure on the nerves, lumbar osteophytes may cause difficulty in bladder or bowel control.

Osteophytes and Treatment Options

The initial treatment for osteophytes’ symptoms typically lasts four to six weeks. During this period, doctors typically recommend rest and medication to reduce swelling, relieve pain and relax muscles.

After this initial resting period, physical therapy and chiropractic care may help to:

  • Improve posture
  • Reduce the pressure on the nerves
  • Restore flexibility and strength

If these treatments don’t resolve painful symptoms associated with bone spurs, medical professionals may administer cortisone (steroid) shots to help reduce joint swelling and pain. The effects are temporary, and the shots sometimes have potential side effects, such as weakening of surrounding tissue.

If other treatments don’t work or the symptoms are severe, surgery may be an option to remove the bone spurs.


Cedars-Sinai Staff. (n.d.). Bone spurs (osteophytes). Retrieved March 27, 2010, from http://www.csmc.edu/5763.html

Schneider, J.H. (2000). Bone spurs (osteophytes) and back pain. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/back-pain/bone-spurs-osteophytes-and-back-pain

Schneider, J.H. (= 2000). Symptoms of bone spurs. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/back-pain/symptoms-bone-spurs

Schneider, J.H. (2000). Treatment options for bone spurs. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/back-pain/treatment-options-bone-spurs