Osteophytes, also known as bone spurs, are structures that form over a long time on the spine, according to Spine-health.com. Osteophytes are often an indication of degeneration in the spine, commonly associated with age.
Osteophytes are a result of disc material in the spine that degenerates, which causes ligaments at the joints of the spine to thicken to keep the vertebrae together, explains Spine-health.com. The ligaments calcify, which results in osteophytes or bone spurs. Although people with osteophytes may experience back pain, the bone spurs do not directly cause the pain. Instead, the existence of osteophytes can lead to spinal disorders such as spinal stenosis or osteoarthritis, both ailments that produce back pain. Bone spurs can be caused by injuries to the architecture of the spine as well as by poor posture and age.
Osteophytes are diagnosed during a clinical exam in which physicians examine joints of the hand, according to About.com. In many cases, physicians request that x-rays are performed to identify osteophytes or bone spurs, especially for individuals over 50 years of age.
If patients experience pain with osteophytes, treatment may include prescription painkillers, vitamin supplements, physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or surgery, in extreme cases, explains About.com.