The human spine is made of 32 separate vertebral segments which are separated by intervertebral disks made up of collagen and ligaments. These disks are shock absorbers and allow a limited amount of flexibility and motion at each spinal segment. These disks allows for a full range of motion of the spine column, the neck and lower back.
When we have a degeneration of the spine, there can be the presents of osteophytes, or bone spurs-are the enlargement of the normal bony structure. Bone spurs are a normal condition as we age and are common after the age of 60 years. These bone spurs are not sharp or poking as the name suggests, instead bone spurs are smooth structures that form over a period of time, without any symptoms for some at the beginning of the formation.
Each segment of the spine has an outer disk ligament behind each disk is a pair of nerve roots that exit the spinal column. Normal life stresses, traumatic injuries to the spine can cause the degeneration of the disks and the spinal joints.
The overall damage occurs due to:
- As the disk ligament slowly wears out, the ligaments loosen and excess motion occurs at the joints.
- The body naturally thickens the ligaments that hold the bones together.
- As we age the thick ligaments tend to calcify, which results in bone spur formation.
- The central spinal column thickens their ligaments causing a compression of the nerve roots.
There are factors which can speed up the degenerative progression and the bone spur growth in the spine. These factors are:
- Genetics and heredity
- Poor posture
- Poor ergonomics
- Sports injuries
- Motor vehicle accidents
Maintaining a good posture, staying fit and exercise can help to prevent or minimize back pain caused by bone spurs.
Bone Spur Causes
Osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis are common causes of bone spurs and back pain for people over 55 or 60 years. Osteoarthritis can cause a stiffness and lower back pain which usually is worse in the morning, eases up as we move around and then can become worse towards the end of the day.
Spinal stenosis is an enlargement of the bone which can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can cause nerve pinching leading to pain down the legs which becomes worse when standing or walking. The pain tends to lessen when you are sitting down. Spinal stenosis can be treated successfully with the proper medical interventions.
Symptoms of Bone Spurs
Back or neck pain are standard symptoms of bone spurs. The joints are inflamed, irritating the neck and back muscles.
Common symptoms are:
- Neck or lower back pain as you stand or walk which is not intense.
- Radiating pain in the shoulders, especially if the cervical spine is affected.
- Radiating pain into the buttocks and thigh, if the lumbar spine is affected.
As the nerves become more compressed people with bone spurs experience:
- Pain in one or both arms or legs
- Arms or legs weakness which seems to be increasing
- lack of sensation or stinging in one or both arms or legs
- In rare cases the bones spurs can cause bowel and bladder incontinence
If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is advised to make an appointment with your physician to help determine the cause of the back or neck pain. Delaying treatment can result in increased pain and discomfort.