Genetics and bone spur development — is there a link?

A bone spur is a deposit of excess bony tissue that forms around a damaged joint. Known more formally as osteophytes, bone spurs are produced naturally by the body in response to joint damage. Despite their name, which may conjure up an image of something sharp and painful, bone spurs are usually smooth and rounded. In fact, their purpose is to protect and fortify weakened bones.

In many cases, the cause of spinal joint damage — and a resulting bone spur — is clear-cut and can be easily traced to age-related degeneration or an injury from direct trauma. Additionally, some studies suggest that genetics may also play a role in spinal bone spur development.

The hereditary link

As a result of specific genetic variations inherited from a parent, some people are born with an increased likelihood of developing certain spinal conditions that can lead to bone spur formation. These conditions, which may be apparent at birth or develop some time later, include:

  • Osteoarthritis of the spine — A breakdown of the protective cartilage that lines the spinal facet joints
  • Degenerative disc disease — A deterioration of the spinal discs that separate and cushion the vertebrae
  • Spinal stenosis — A narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Foraminal stenosis — A tightening of the passageway formed by the facet joints

In general, an individual who has a family history of any of these spinal conditions may have an elevated risk of developing a bone spur.

Do bone spurs require treatment?

While not problematic in and of themselves, bone spurs that develop in the spine can sometimes cause problems due to the limited amount of space available for highly sensitive nerve tissue. For instance, if the spinal cord or a nerve root is compressed by a bone spur, symptoms like radiating pain, weakness, numbness and tingling sensations may occur. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of severe or persistent neck or back pain and to see a medical professional promptly for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Contact Laser Spine Institute if you’d like to learn more about the genetic factors that can contribute to the development of osteophytes, as well as the treatment options available. Our surgeons perform minimally invasive spine procedures that can alleviate painful symptoms caused by a spinal bone spur.