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Tensile forces create spinal spurs | Biomechanical Evaluation of Spondylophyte Development

Spondylophyte osteophyte

Goal of the Study?

Bone spurs that project off vertebral bodies (spondylophytes) are common. However, the causes of their development are somewhat curious. Are these vertebral spurs due to tensile (stretching/lengthening) forces, or are they due to compressive forces? In this study1 these researchers sought to find some answers.

Why are they doing this study?

Imaging the spine, whether it is X-ray, CT or MRI, can frequently reveal spondylophytes. Information about the development of these spinal spurs is lacking and could reveal better biomechanical solutions for patients seeking answers to their back pain. Understanding the local stiffness around these findings can help professionals manage a course of care. These small bony projections are found in spines as early as 20 years old, and the severe forms of the spondylophytes are almost in all patients of the age of 80 yrs. Some researchers have believed the development of these spurs act as a propping mechanism to keep vertebrae separated from one another.



What was done in this study?

Cadaveric human lumbar segments with spondylophytes were evaluated for motion in a displacement-controlled device. Each direction of movement (flexion, extension, axial rotation, lateral bending, posterior and lateral shear) was biomechanically calculated for stiffness. The spondylophytes were categorized by their anatomical location and size.


What did they find?

The most significant effect on biomechanical stiffness was found to be contralateral bending. This indicates that tensile (stretching) forces contribute most to the development of the spondylophytes and refutes the idea that the body develops these spondylophytes for the purpose of propping vertebra apart.


Why do these findings matter?

Learning the biomechanical history of a patient’s spinal findings can help professionals understand the underlying forces at play with a person’s back pain. Clinical encounters are often short and do not allow the spine professional to grasp the presenting patient’s daily movement dynamics. This research helps clinicians learn about the patient’s biomechanical history when looking at imaging to carve out a therapeutic strategy if the spondylophytes contribute to the back pain problem. For example, if spinal stretching is part of the patient’s home care plan of self-care, perhaps adjusting the stretching to a stability theme might be a better long-term strategy.


At Dynamic Disc Designs, we create dynamic human anatomy lumbar models to help patients see the biomechanical faults that can be contributing to their lower back pain. We have seen that when a patient can see and dynamically understand their sources, they learn much better on making the right moves for their specific condition.

  1. Spondylophyte classification based on biomechanical effects on
    segmental stiffness, Spine 2022 Jun 4; S1529-9430(22)00238-8
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