What is a Spinal Bone Spur?

Arthritis in the spine causing bone spurs

A spinal bone spur, commonly referred to as an osteophyte, is a growth of extra bone usually found on our vertebrae. Spinal bone spurs form as the body tries to heal itself by adding extra bone to a damaged area. They usually develop slowly over time in response to pressure, frictions, or stresses. Although many people would think that spinal bone spurs are rough and jagged like the spur found on a cowboy boot, back and neck bone spurs are actually quite smooth and will often not have any symptoms at all; it is only when the spur presses on a nearby structure that they will start to cause problems.

doctors note

Note From Dr. Liu:

Most patients don’t even realize they suffer from a spinal bone spur, and are often found by accident on an X-ray while having another condition diagnosed.

When Do Back or Neck Bone Spurs Become Painful?

If a spinal bone spur grows inward, it can cause pain by constricting the spinal canal and pressing on the nerve roots. When a spinal bone spur presses on surrounding nerve structures it becomes a source of mild to severe nerve-related pain, and should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

healthy spine with no bone spurs
Figure 1a. A normal healthy spine not affected by a spinal bone spur.
bone spur growth causing nerve pain
Figure 1b. Damaged spine with bone spur pressing on nerve causing nerve pain.

Who Is Affected By Back or Neck Bone Spurs?

Back or neck bone spurs usually form after a fracture of the vertebra. Vertebral fractures can be caused by a traumatic event or injury, although more often they generally result from simple stresses, such as lifting. Because the spine naturally weakens from aging and daily wear and tear, spinal bone spurs are more common in older people than in younger people.