What is a bone spur?
A bone spur or ‘osteophyte’ is new bone that forms at the end of bones or joints. Bone spurs form in response to movement when one bone comes into contact with another bone across a joint or disk space. Bone spurs can occur throughout the body but are common in the spine because of numerous bony joints and disks that make up and support the spine. Bone spur formation occurs to varying degrees and is expected in the aging spine but will be more common in patients that have significant arthritis.
Do bone spurs cause pain?
Most of the time bone spurs do not cause pain and are expected findings on MRIs of the spine. A bone spur itself is normal bone and does not cause pain, however, sometimes bone spurs will grow towards the spinal cord or spinal nerves resulting in compression of the spinal nerves. Compression of the spinal nerve can result in numbness, tingling and/or pain in the arms or legs.
Is surgery required for a bone spur?
The vast majority of the time surgery is not indicated. Remember that bone spurs occur due to normal movement of the spine and wear and tear changes that occur over time. Rarely bone spurs contribute to spinal stenosis or nerve impingement and require surgery if conservative treatments fail. An MRI read from a radiologist may mention bone spurs or osteophytes but only a surgeon can tell you if surgery is required.
What other treatments are there for bone spurs?
Remember most bone spurs won’t require any surgery and do not cause problems. They are simply a part of the wear and tear changes that occur in the spine. Bone spurs do not cause back pain but there are many other structures in the back that can cause back pain including arthritic inflammation, muscle strains, and joint pain. Physical therapy, NSAIDs, spinal injections and other treatments can sometimes be helpful for low back pain.