Bone spurs are bony over-growths that occur when an area of bone or surrounding tissue has been injured and the body is trying to heal itself. These bone spurs are called spinal osteophytes when they are located in the spine.
For some people, these spurs don’t cause pain or interfere with daily life. However, when they become a problem, they can lead to severe and sometimes debilitating pain and other symptoms. Spinal bone spurs most commonly develop in the neck or the lower back.
Symptoms of Spinal Bone Spurs
Spinal osteophytes can cause substantial pain that sometimes flares and subsides during movement. The pain moves along primary nerve paths and into the extremities. Many patients also develop numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation in their arms or legs.
If left untreated, the pressure on the nerves can lead to complications. Long-term nerve compression can develop into muscle weakness and even loss of function. Pain can also be caused by the bone spurs irritating the surrounding tissues, leading to inflammation and friction.
The pain of spinal bone spurs usually develops slowly over a long period. It may be mild at first, but after months or even years, the pain will progress and spread as the nerves and even the spinal cord are compressed or irritated. The pain becomes worse with activity and is less severe when resting.
The symptoms of spinal bone spurs are somewhat different depending on whether the bone spurs are in the neck or the lower back.
Symptoms of bone spurs in the neck may include:
- An aching neck that improves with rest
- A headache that starts with dull pain in the neck that travels up the back of the skull
- Pain radiating into one or both shoulders
- Arm weakness
- Tingling, burning, or numbness in one or both arms
Symptoms of bone spurs in the lower back may include:
- Dull pain in the lower back that subsides when sitting
- Numbness, tingling, or burning in the back of the thighs and buttocks
- Temporary pain relief when bending forward or flexing at the waist
- Weakness in one or both legs
Diagnosing Spinal Bone Spurs
If you suffer from lower back or neck pain, your doctor will evaluate your condition in several ways. First—and most important—is a physical exam. During a physical exam, your doctor will ask you to bend forward, walk, sit, stand, and perform other movements. This helps the doctor determine the location and severity of your pain, as well as any loss of strength resulting from nerve compression.
Additional diagnostic tools include MRIs, x-rays, and CT scans. CT scans are the most accurate way to find anomalies in the spine, including bone spurs. Occasionally, the doctor may order EMG or nerve induction tests. These help determine whether the pain is caused by peripheral nerve compression or spinal cord compression.
Conservative Treatment Options for Spinal Bone Spurs
Doctors will try non-invasive treatments for bone spurs whenever possible, mainly if the pain is mild to moderate and there are no complications. This usually includes rest, modifying activities, strengthening abdominal and back muscles, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Corticosteroid injections can target the area of pain and reduce inflammation. Additional medications may be injected to block pain signals from the nerves to the brain. This should only be performed by a spine surgeon after a thorough evaluation of the condition.
If none of these conservative treatment options for bone spurs provide relief, surgery by a qualified, experienced spine surgeon should be considered.
Surgeries for Spinal Bone Spurs
There are several surgical options for treating the pain and damage caused by bone spurs on the spine. Depending on the bone spurs’ location and the severity of the problem, your surgeon will determine the best option for you. Surgery is usually only recommended when the pain is severe and nearly constant or if there is a significant loss of motor function or sensitivity.
Bone Spur Removal
Bone spur removal procedures use specially designed surgical tools to remove the bone spurs from the vertebrae. Because removing a bone spur isn’t permanent (they can grow back over time), this is often done in conjunction with additional surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves.
A laminectomy is an operation that eliminates pressure on the spinal cord. A section of the affected vertebrae is removed to increase the size of the opening in the spine, preventing pinching of the spinal cord.
Laminotomy is another decompression procedure. It is similar to laminectomy and treats the same conditions. In a laminotomy, however, nothing is removed. Instead, a larger opening is created in the lamina area of the vertebrae where the compression occurs.
A foraminotomy surgery focuses on relieving pressure on nerve roots rather than the spinal cord. These nerve roots enter the spinal column through the foramen, which are bony openings between the vertebrae. Bone tissue is shaved off to enlarge the opening so that the nerve is no longer compressed.
In some cases, a surgeon may use more than one of these surgical techniques. If the bone spurs are severe, there may also be narrowing of the spinal column, and two different types of surgery will provide better results.
Recovering from Spinal Bone Spur Surgery
It is essential to understand that rehabilitation is critical after any of the above surgeries for spinal bone spurs. For a while, your doctor may prescribe medications and anti-inflammatories to help the healing process. You will need to work with a physical therapist and your doctor to ensure you strengthen the surrounding muscles and tendons. Proper posture and a strong core both contribute to long-lasting results from surgery for bone spurs on the spine.
Experts in Treating Spinal Bone Spurs
Arkansas Surgical Hospital’s surgeons treat many patients with bone spurs on the spine every year. If you suffer from pain and mobility issues due to spinal bone spurs, contact us to schedule an appointment. A complete physical exam and consultation will help our specialists determine the best course of treatment or surgery to bring you relief.