The relationship between an intervertebral disc and bone spurs

Intervertebral discs give the spinal column its unique flexibility. These discs are made up of a spongy material that cushions the vertebrae, or bones, that make up the spinal column. These discs also prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other and causing damage to the spinal column.

An intervertebral disc consists of two layers. The outer layer is a tough skin that contains and protects the inner layer, which is a gel-like substance consisting of mostly protein and water. Potentially painful issues, including bone spurs, can occur from the wearing out of these discs. If chronic neck or back pain related to a spine condition is affecting your life, educating yourself is important. Knowledge about your condition can help you better work with your health care providers to get the help you need to return to a full, active life.

How intervertebral disc degeneration causes bone spurs

As each vertebra moves up and down and back and forth, it presses on the intervertebral disc, which changes shape accordingly. This ability to accommodate movement while providing cushion between bones provides appropriate shock absorption levels for any movement, including standing, sitting, swinging a golf club, swimming, walking and other basic movements.

However, when an intervertebral disc is damaged or worn down, the inner layer can leak out or dry up. With less cushioning in the disc, vertebrae get closer and closer together and cannot tilt as far in any direction without rubbing against one another. This friction can cause bone spurs, or osteophytes, to develop as a natural, stabilizing response.

Symptoms and treatment options

As bone spurs grow and protrude into the spinal canal, they cause narrowing, which puts pressure on spinal nerves. If these nerves are interfered with, it can cause disruption of sensory and motor function both locally and throughout the body. Nerve compression related to intervertebral disc degeneration and bone spur development can lead to symptoms including:

  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Tingling and numbness in the upper or lower extremities
  • Muscle weakness

If you suspect that you have developed bone spurs as a result of a damaged intervertebral disc — such as a bulging disc or herniated disc — you should see your physician for a diagnosis. Your physician may initially recommend a course of conservative bone spurs treatment, such as reduced activity, physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications.

Surgery is often considered when weeks or months of conservative treatments do not bring an improvement in symptoms and a return to normal mobility. Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative to highly invasive traditional open spine surgery. Our board-certified+ surgeons perform minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery that has many benefits compared to traditional procedures, including lower risk of complications like infection and scarring.

For a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures, contact our dedicated team of Spine Care Consultants today.