Spinal Problems Bone

Spinal bone problems can range from common bone spurs that cause no back pain to the much more rare bone death of avascular necrosis. Although some of these conditions can lead to serious back problems, spine pain and other telltale symptoms are not always present. As with any condition affecting the spine, be sure to consult your doctor if you are experiencing spine pain.

Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, or “osteophytes,” are typically smooth growths of bone that can develop upon existing bones of the spine over a prolonged period of time. Many people develop bone spurs as they age, and the osteophytes themselves are not painful. Symptoms occur only if the spurs press on nerves or the spinal cord.

Symptoms of osteophytes include:

  • Decreased coordination
  • Pain that radiates out from the spine
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness
  • Weakness.

Often these symptoms are made worse by activity and lessened with rest. Your doctor, along with imaging studies, can determine if bone spurs are causing your symptoms.

Lower Back Pain

The main bones of the spinal column are connected to one another by smaller bones known as the pars interarticularis. Spondylolysis occurs when this connection is weakened, leading to small stress fractures in the vertebrae. The condition most commonly occurs in the lower back directly above the sacrum. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that 3 to 7 percent of Americans have spondylolysis, though many are unaware they have it. The most common symptom of spondylolysis is lower back pain.

Additionally, spondylolysis can lead to spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one or more vertebrae slip (usually forward) relative to the adjacent vertebrae. If the slipped verterbra compresses on a nerve, lower back pain can result. Other causes of spondylolisthesis include trauma and certain degenerative diseases.

Spinal Infections

Another potential cause of back pain is a spinal infection. Infections involving the bones and discs of the spine aren’t common, but they can have serious consequences if they occur.

The most common types of spinal infections include:

  • Discitis: An inflammation of the intervertebral discs, discitis is often related to another infection.
  • Spinal epidural abscess: This is a collection of pus (due to infection) between the outer membrane of the spinal cord and the vertebrae.
  • Vertebral osteomyelitis: Vertebral osteomyelitis is a bone infection that most commonly occurs in the vertebrae, but can spread into the intervertebral discs and the area surrounding the spinal cord.

Other Spinal Bone Problems

Avascular necrosis (or osteonecrosis) occurs when bone tissue dies as a result of insufficient blood flow. Avascular bone necrosis can lead to tiny breaks in the bone that eventually cause the bone to collapse. Although it most commonly develops in the thighbone (femur), in rare cases, osteonecrosis is found in the spine.

Coccydynia is inflammation and pain of the coccyx (tailbone). Although the cause of coccydynia is often unknown, an injury or stress that affects the tailbone or surrounding muscles and nerves can lead to the condition. Coccydynia is more common in women than in men.

Traumatic fractures of the spinal bones have the potential to be more dangerous than other bone fractures, because they present a risk of spinal cord injury. If you suspect problems with the bones of your spine, seek medical advice. Early treatment of any spinal bone problem is more likely to result in a favorable outcome.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) Staff. (2007). Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. Retrieved March 27, 2010, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00053

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

Cleveland Clinic Foundation Staff. (2009). Spondylolisthesis. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/back_pain/hic_spondylolisthesis.aspx

Cleveland Clinic Foundation Staff. (2009). Spondylolysis. Retrieved April 22, 2010, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/back_pain/hic_spondylolysis.aspx

Cresse, M. (2009). Coccydynia. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from http://www.med.nyu.edu/patientcare/library/article.html?ChunkIID=445932

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Staff (2009). Osteonecrosis. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteonecrosis/default.asp

Young, M. and Richard T. Holt. (2010). Infections of the Spine. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-disorders/infections-spine-0