Bone Spurs in the Back

Bone spurs in the back usually develop around facet joints that have undergone facet joint arthritis and degenerated lumbar discs of the back where the surfaces of the intervertebral discs and vertebral bodies meet.

In one recent Swedish study, the spines of 195 men and women were X-rayed and compared. Some expected and unexpected results were indicated. Of the men and women who were in their 40s, 72% of them had osteophytes, also known as bone spurs or lipping, on the facet joints and on the ribs of the vertebral bodies. Bone spurs in the back usually develop around facet joints that have undergone facet joint arthritis and degenerated lumbar discs of the back where the surfaces of the intervertebral discs and vertebral bodies meet.

The X-rays of the people in their 60s indicated that 97 percent had evidence of bone spurs. Surprisingly at the time, there was little correlation between the presence of bone spurs and pain, or the degree of advancement of osteoarthritis (indicated by the amount of bone spurs indicated on the X-Ray), and back pain.

How is this possible, when all we have learned up until now is that osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of back pain? One thing that we have learned is that while osteophytes indicate a problem with the back, it actually is involved in stabilizing the back in order to decrease back pain symptoms. Once the bone spurs of the back have become more developed, they have actually accomplished their purpose of stabilizing the discs or joints on which they are growing. Often the cause of back pain is instability of the spine, either due to the discs, facet joints, or other soft tissues not working they way they used to. This instability in the spine can move tightly contained structures out of place, or away from each other, and the patient may be affected by pain of muscle tension/spasms when the nerves that innervate these structures signal that there is a problem.



Osteophytes halt this increasing instability of the spine by limiting the mobility of the structures affected by degenerative changes to the back. While osteophytes do stabilize a spine, their formation also causes stiffness in the back, particularly in people over the age of 65. But as far as the actual cause of a person's back pain, most doctors think that osteophytes are the reason in only a small percentage of cases. When doctors do diagnose osteophytes as being the cause of back pain, the problem is diagnosed as spinal stenosis. The medical definition of stenosis is narrowing. Technically, the diagnosis of spinal stenosis means narrowing of the spine, which sounds very frightening. Actually, the meaning of the diagnosis is "a condition where there has been some narrowing."

There are two types of spinal stenosis: cervical spinal stenosis (sometimes called midline stenosis) and lateral spinal stenosis. Central spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord and supportive structures, in one or more locations along the spine. The central spinal canal runs through the arch of the vertebral bones located behind the vertebral body. If bone spurs develop and accumulate on towards the interior of this arch, it could cause constriction of the spinal canal and affect the nerve roots exiting the spine.

Click here to read more about central spinal stenosis.