Bone Spurs

"Osteophytes" Symptoms and Causes

What is a Bone Spur?

Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are bony outgrowths that can form on the spine and around or within joints. When bones, ligaments, or tendons in the spine are damaged or irritated the body can respond by trying to repair the affected area. It does this by catalyzing bone growth through either ossification (if the stimuli affects a bone) or calcification (if the stimuli affects a tendon or ligament).

Bone damage or irritation can be caused by osteoarthritis (deterioration of the cartilage between bones which causes them to rub together), trauma, thinning or degenerative discs, ligament inflammation or tearing, and spinal stenosis, among other conditions. Bone spurs may or may not cause symptoms, this will largely depend on where they are located and the extent of their growth. If they do put pressure on a nerve in the spine you may experience pain, tingling, stiffness, numbness, and weakness in the affected area. Bone spurs are usually detected using imaging techniques such as an X-ray or an MRI. Typically, bone spurs are only treated if they are causing symptoms. The aim of treatment is to decrease inflammation, decompress nerves, and reduce symptoms.

Osteophytes differ from enthesophytes, which are bony hook like projections that develop at the ends of ligaments (which connect bones together) or tendons (which connect muscles to bones). Enthesophytes can be caused by tendonitis, ligament tearing, inflammation of the attachment point of tendons or ligaments, or degenerative arthritis. Osteophytes also differ from syndesmophyte which result from the calcification or hardening inside the ligaments running parallel to the spine. This can result in “bamboo spine” which means the adjacent vertebrae are fused together forming one cohesive unit. Non-marginal syndesmophytes refer to ligament hardening beyond the edges of the vertebral margin while marginal syndesmophytes develop along the edges of the vertebrae.

Bone spurs can also occur in other areas of the body such as the: Feet, Shoulders/ Rotator cuff, Knees, Heels, Ankles, Elbows, Wrists, Hands, Hip, and Shins.

Types of Bone Spurs

When bone spurs form on the spine, it’s usually because your body is trying to heal from another issue, such as degenerative bone disease. While not all spinal osteophytes will cause problems, when they do cause symptoms, the pain can become severe. A bone spur can form anywhere along the spine, though they are most common in the neck and lower back.

Types of Bone Spurs by Region of the Spine

Regions of the Spine

Regions of the Spine

  • Cervical Bone Spurs: Bone spurs in the neck can develop on any of the seven cervical vertebrae from the top to the base of your neck. 
  • Thoracic Bone Spurs: Bone spurs in the upper and mid-back can develop in any of the twelve vertebrae from the base of your neck to your mid-back. 
  • Lumbar Bone Spurs: Bone spurs in the lower back can occur on any of the vertebrae from the thoracic region to the sacrum. 

Types of Bone Spur by Portion of the Spine Affected

  • Disc Osteophyte Complex (DOC): this term is used to describe an ambiguous pathology, when it is unclear based in an MR imaging whether a patient is suffering from endplate osteophytes, a protruding disc, thickened ligaments, or multiple conditions.
  • Bridging osteophytes: The formation of a bony bridge between two vertebrae with bone spurs.
  • Anterior osteophytes: Bone spurs that develop at the front of the spine.
  • Posterior osteophytes: Bone spurs that develop at the back of the spine.
  • Endplate osteophytes: Bone spurs that develop at the top or bottom edges of the vertebrae where they interact with the disc.
  • Multilevel endplate osteophytes: Bone spurs that develop at both the top and bottom endplates, thereby affecting more than one vertebra or vertebral disc.
  • Foraminal disc osteophyte complex: Bone spurs that develop in the foramen – the hollow archways on both sides of two adjacent vertebra, through which the spinal nerve roots run.
  • Facet Joint Osteophytes: Bone spurs that develop surrounding the facet joints, which help connect two adjacent vertebrae together. There are two facet joints between each vertebrae which provide motion, spinal stability, and prevent certain harmful motions.

Bone Spur Symptoms

Not all people with bone spurs experience symptoms. Symptoms may arise if the bone spur begins to cause compression on a spinal nerve. The range of symptoms you experience will depend on the location and growth of the bone spur.

Symptoms of Cervical Bone Spurs:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Difficulty turning the head
  • Headaches
  • Radiating pain from the neck to one or both shoulders
  • Tingling or numbness in one or both arms or hands
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Coordination issues
  • Difficulty breathing (dypnea)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Difficulty speaking (dyphonia)

Symptoms of Thoracic Bone Spurs:

  • Pain, tingling or weakness in one or both arms
  • Weakness in one or both hands
  • Pain, tingling, or numbness in the legs
  • Pain, tingling, or numbness in the chest and trunk
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited mobility and flexibility

Symptoms of Lumbar Bone Spurs:

  • Pain in the lower back when walking or standing
  • Discomfort, numbness or tingling in the buttocks
  • Muscle spasms
  • Radiating pain down one or both legs
  • A reduction in pain when bending forward from the waist

What Causes Bone Spurs?

The most common cause is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. This is an age-related condition in which the cartilage within the joints at the ends of each bone, gradually wears away. Common causes of osteoarthritis include: 

  • Repetitive movements or frequent stress on the spine which causes tears in the cartilage between the discs and can damage the spinal vertebrae. 
  • The cartilage between the vertebrae and disc wears down and affects the spine’s motion 
  • Thickening calcification of ligaments

Other causes of bone spurs include: spondylosis, trauma, infection (Osteomyelitis), thinning disc, spinal stenosis (foraminal and within the spinal canal), facet joint eburnation (degeneration), facet arthropathy (facet joint arthritis), degenerative discs disease, forestier's disease (ligament hardening in the spine), or ankylosing spondylitis.

Bone Spur Risk Factors

Risk factors for osteophytes include: being age over 45 years, having a previous injury to the spine, having family members with bone spurs, improper posture, poor nutrition, obesity, high-impact sports, conditions such as lupus or gout, or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine).

At Miami Neouroscience Center we help patients with Bone Spurs using the latest techiques and treatments, contact us today.

Prevention of Bone Spurs

Because bone spurs are most often a result of osteoarthritis, there is no specific way to avoid them. However, you can reduce the chance of developing them in some areas of your body by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight 
  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Maintaining good posture
  • Lifting heavy objects properly
  • Eating a healthy diet

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions About Bone Spurs

Although you can have bone spurs without experiencing any pain, bone spurs can become painful if they are causing compression of a nerve root in the spine. In this case, you may need surgery to decompress the nerve. Depending on the location of the bone spurs symptoms can include sharp or radiating pain down your arms and shoulders (if in the neck) or buttocks and legs (if in the lower back).

Yes, bone spurs can be surgically removed with a bone spur removal surgery, foraminotomy, corpectomy, facetectomy, pediculectomy, and other surgical techniques (to learn more click here).

While disc osteophyte complex may involve a bulging or herniated disc, it may also involve bony overgrowth (osteophytes) or other conditions. The term “disc osteophyte complex” is used to describe the potential presence of one or multiple conditions which are not easily identifiable with diagnostic imaging. The clear diagnosis of herniated disc on the other indicates the absence of bone spurs.  

Although bone spurs will not go away on their own, in many cases, they do not produce symptoms and may go undetected for several years. Often, a diagnosis of bone spurs is not made until a patient has imaging tests for a different condition.

In some cases, physical therapy can help. Exercises to strengthen the body’s core and back muscles, gentle stretching, ice and heat therapy, and massage may help relieve symptoms.

Bone spurs can develop on any bone or joint. They are most common in the cervical vertebrae (the bones in the neck) and the knees.

You may not experience any symptoms with bone spurs. However, if you are experiencing pain in your neck, upper or lower back, that lasts more than several weeks or is severe you should seek medical advice.

Our doctor will discuss your medical history and symptoms. He will then order a series of X-rays. This is the most reliable means of diagnosing bone spurs.

The most common cause of osteoarthritis is aging. However, other factors that can increase your risk, include:

  • Menopause
  • A family history of this condition
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of vitamin D

To find a bone spur specialist in Miami generally you will first present your symptoms (such as neck or back pain) to your primary care physician. Your physician will order imaging studies or refer you to a neurologist that will diagnose your condition. After being diagnosed, you will then be referred to a neurosurgeon that has experience treating your condition. The neurosurgeons at the Miami Neuroscience Center at Larkin are equipped with the technology and expertise to treat and properly diagnose bone spurs in the spine and help you live pain free.


Peter M.van der Kraan, PhD; Wim B. van den Berg, PhD, "Osteophytes: relevance and biology", Osteoarthritis Research Society International, March 2007.

Albert Vaca, "Combat Osteoarthritis With Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine" Tao of Wellness, June 2017.

To see if you have Bone Spurs and to learn more about your treatment options please call us at 786.871.6856 or schedule a consultation today!