What is a bone spur?

Patients often come to our office after being diagnosed with a “bone spur” that was seen on an x-ray, MRI or CT scan of their spine.

Many times patients are told that the bone spur is the cause of their pain. Bone spurs in the spine may cause symptoms, however, often these are painless findings associated with normal ‘wear and tear’ of the spine.

Bone spurs usually form at joints or areas where tendons attach muscles to bone. They form as a natural reaction to repetitive motion and stress to provide additional support in these areas. Bones spurs can occur throughout the body but are very common in the spine due to the significant weight loads and range of motion that the spine supports. Each spinal level includes two joints and a disk space that allow movement of the spine. Over time it is expected that areas of the spine that provide motion, such as the joints and disk spaces, will show signs of wear tear. Disks may degenerate and lose some of their elastic properties and bone spurs may form as a natural response to these stresses.

Most of the time these findings, often called degenerative changes, do not cause problems or symptoms. Patient’s generally do not feel or have pain from a bone spur because it is simply a focal overgrowth of a patient’s normal bone. However, a bone spur can be the cause of nerve compression in either the neck or back which may result in pain. If the bone spur encroaches on a nerve in the lower back then a patient may experience pain that starts in the back and radiates down the leg. This occurs because the nerves that provide sensation to the legs start in the lower back and travel all the way down the leg to the toes. Similarly, a compressed nerve in the neck will present with neck pain that radiates down the arm. Therefore, in cases that a bone spur is causing pain it is not the actual bone spur that a patient feels but the nerve that is being compressed by the bone spur which results in symptoms.

Of course there are many reasons one may experience pain in the lower back, neck, arms and legs. Determining appropriate treatments for a patient’s symptoms requires significant knowledge of anatomy, experience reading MRIs, a physical exam and obtaining a detailed patient history. Visit one of our experts at Axis Brain and Back to discuss your treatment options!

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