Ask Dr. Santos: How Are Spine Bone Spurs Treated?

Learn about the nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for spine bone spurs.

spine bone spurs

Bone spurs are the body’s attempt to address irritation by building up additional layers of bone to protect existing skeletal structures. Spine bone spurs are a universal byproduct of the normal aging process—all of us get them. Frequently, bone spurs along the spine cause no symptoms and require no treatment. But when we do experience symptoms of pain, numbness, or weakness, it’s important to be evaluated by a spine specialist. Spine surgeon Dr. Edward Santos describes the symptoms caused by spine bone spurs and reviews treatment options.

The symptoms of nerve damage caused by spine bone spurs

“The signs that bone spurs may be causing nerve damage include persistent, increasing, or significant pain along the lower extremities,” explains Dr. Santos. “There may also be numbness or tingling of the lower extremities. Another symptom related to bone spurs is any form of weakness. These are the main signs of nerve damage caused by bone spurs. Rarely, a patient also reports bowel or bladder function issues. Such function issues are rare but serious. They signal a late stage of nerve damage in the lower back and require urgent intervention.”

Treatment of spine bone spurs begins with a thorough medical evaluation

“Management of bone spur symptoms begins with a medical assessment, clinical examination, and imaging studies,” says Dr. Santos. “The critical step here is to really have a thorough physical examination and obtain a complete history. I want to know what symptoms you are experiencing, how severe your symptoms are, and how long you’ve been experiencing them. This information will tell me if there are any signs of nerve injury. Then, of course, I want to look at an MRI or CT scan for a definitive diagnosis.”

Nonsurgical treatment options for spine bone spurs

When patients have been experiencing spine bone spur symptoms for less than six weeks, Summit’s spine specialists favor nonsurgical management. “As a general rule, and in the absence of hard evidence of nerve damage, we prefer nonsurgical treatments,” says Dr. Santos. “That’s because when all is said and done, nonsurgical intervention is the option of lesser risk. Conservative treatments have far fewer risks compared to surgery. If we can relieve pain and restore function without surgery, that’s ideal.”

Summit offers a number of nonsurgical treatments to manage bone spur symptoms.

  • Activities modification. In some cases, identifying and refraining from painful activities will relieve symptoms of spine bone spurs.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. Inflammation can irritate impinged nerves. Medication to relieve inflammation can also relieve pain.
  • Physical therapy. Therapist-guided exercises strengthen and support the back.
  • Epidural injections. Like anti-inflammatories, cortisone shots are designed to alleviate nerve inflammation.

Decompression surgery for spine bone spurs

“When patients continue to have persistent pain, numbness, or weakness beyond six weeks, in spite of nonsurgical measures, then we consider more aggressive interventions like surgery,” says Dr. Santos. “The surgery typically required for bone spurs is called a decompression. Decompression procedures are minimally invasive. With appropriate healthy patients, surgery is handled as a same-day outpatient procedure. During a decompression procedure, we go into the lower back where the bone spurs are located and where the nerves are compressed. Then, I shave away the bone spur, relieving the pressure on the nerves.”

Benefits and risks of decompression surgery to treat spine bone spurs

“Research studies confirm the effectiveness of decompression to treat spine bone spurs and relieve sciatic symptoms,” notes Dr. Santos. “Some patients are concerned that bone spurs might re-form following the surgery. I tell them that although there’s a very small risk of re-formation, it’s highly unlikely. In the majority of cases, decompression surgery is a permanent fix. No secondary surgery is required.”

Dr. Santos points out that there are general risks and potential complications with any surgical intervention. These complications include infection, nerve damage, a spinal fluid leak, and even death. “The fluid leak risk can typically be repaired during surgery without any long-term repercussion, but it is still a risk,” he notes. “Finally, there’s never an absolute guarantee that surgery will make the pain will go away. The majority of patients get significantly better after this procedure. But at the end of the day, there’s always a chance that a patient delayed for too long and the nerve damage is already permanent and irreversible. In that case, decompression can’t relieve symptoms.

“Even though these risks are extremely rare and usually do not happen, I routinely tell my patients about them as part of preparation for surgery. I also tell them that at Summit, we keep a database of surgical outcomes. We use our database to do a monthly review of our quality outcome measures. Based on the data, I can assure patients that at Summit Orthopedics, we have excellent outcomes with this procedure.”

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Summit Orthopedics’ Spinecare program is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968-5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota. 

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  • Edward Santos MD

    Edward Santos, M.D.

    “I am committed to providing the best care possible for all of my patients with spine disorders. I treat each and every patient as I would treat any member of my family. I believe that patients’ concerns and expectations deserve to be heard. I also believe in the importance of having a thorough discussion of both surgical and nonsurgical options, with the goal of relieving pain and restoring function.”

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