Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are bony projections that develop along the edges of bones, often forming in joints. They are usually smooth, but can cause wear or pain if pressed or rubbed on other bones or soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, or nerves in the body.

What causes bone spurs?

Bone spurs can form on any bone in your body, including the vertebrae of the spine. When they develop on the spine, they begin to compress a nerve root or the spinal cord itself. This compression is what typically causes the pain and discomfort associated with bone spurs.

Although several things may contribute to the growth of bone spurs on the spine, these are the most common causes:

Spinal osteoarthritis

Joint damage from osteoarthritis is probably the most common cause of bone spurs. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage on the ends of your bones, the body will attempt to repair the loss by forming bone spurs near the damaged area.

Disc generation

In time, tendons (which hold muscles to bones) and ligaments (which hold bones to bones) in the body will start to tighten and pull the bones away from where they should be. This pulling creates friction and can eventually stimulate the production of bone spurs.

Disc degeneration

Soft, gelatinous discs separate the vertebrae of the spine. As these discs wear down, the vertebrae come into contact with each other, which can trigger the development of bone spurs.

Traumatic injury

Though this is a little less common, high-impact sports, auto accidents, and other sudden impacts have the ability to accelerate spinal deterioration – ultimately leading to the development of bone spurs.

While most people associate bone spurs with localized pain, they can actually cause a variety of symptoms depending on the cause, severity, and location of the bone spurs. Symptoms are often at their worst early in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity where the back stiffens up. Yet as time passes on, many people begin to experience chronic pain as a result of their condition.


Additionally, bone spurs in the back can cause a wide variety of symptoms when they result in the compression of a nerve within the spinal column. Among the most common symptoms of nerve compression in the lower back are:

  • Sciatic pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle weakness or fatigue
  • Diminished reflexes
  • Pins-and-needles in the feet or toes
  • A sensation of heat
  • Stiffness

Though bone spurs that limit range of motion or press on nerves may require surgical removal, adult stem cell therapy may provide pain relief for some patients with bone spurs.