Schmorls nodes are herniations of intervertebral discs that push on the adjacent vertebrae. They are most often painless but can sometimes cause acute lower back pain.

Schmorl’s nodes, or intravertebral disc herniations, occur inside the bones of your spine (vertebrae). They happen when the inside material of your intravertebral discs pokes through the outside layer and burrows into adjacent vertebrae.

Schmorl’s nodes are quite common but usually don’t cause any symptoms. Because of that, many people may not know they have them.

This article will discuss Schmorl’s nodes, including their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and other useful information.

Schmorl’s nodes form on intervertebral discs, shock-absorbing pieces of cartilage between each vertebra. The nodes form when these discs herniate, and material from inside the discs presses on a vertebra, changing its shape.

Disc herniations typically extend sideways. But Schmorl’s nodes herniate upward or downward toward the adjacent vertebrae.

Researchers don’t yet know what causes Schmorl’s nodes, but it may be due to the following:

Schmorl’s nodes may be more frequent in:

  • older adults
  • people assigned male at birth
  • those with a family history of Schmorl’s nodes
  • Individuals with a previous back injury
  • people with health conditions that weaken bone structure, such as osteoporosis

How common are Schmorl’s nodes?

Schmorl’s nodes are common. According to a 2019 study, around 22% of the participants had Schmorl’s nodes. But the occurrence of Schmorl’s nodes can be highly variable. A 2013 study suggested that it can be as low as 3% and as high as 76%.

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Schmorl’s nodes rarely have symptoms. In fact, doctors often accidentally discover them while reviewing spine images for a different reason.

However, you may experience lower back pain due to inflammation or swelling of the surrounding vertebrae.

Even more rarely, Schmorl’s nodes can cause a pinched nerve in the spine (radiculopathy).

Doctors diagnose Schmorl’s nodes through imaging studies of the spine that typically depict the lower back region:

On an MRI, Schmorl’s nodes look like a notch or a bump pushing into a vertebra.

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Schmorl’s nodes are lesions on the spine that form from bulging of the vertebral discs. Photography courtesy of Mikael Häggström/Wikimedia

If your Schmorl’s nodes don’t cause any symptoms, you might not need any treatment.

But if you do have pain or discomfort from your condition, your doctor may suggest the following:

It may take 2 to 6 months to see the effect of conservative treatments.

Surgery is a very rare option for treating Schmorl’s nodes. A doctor may only recommend it if you have radiculopathy that does not go away. Surgery usually involves removing disc material.

Are Schmorl’s nodes cancerous?

Doctors typically consider Schmorl’s nodes noncancerous growths.

However, some cancers of the spine may trigger Schmorl’s node formation.

In addition, Schmorl’s nodes can look similar to cancerous growths on MRI. Because of that, doctors can sometimes confuse one condition with the other. This might have serious implications for your health.

Unlike Schmorl’s nodes, cancer usually requires prompt treatment. Your doctors will use special techniques and consult with other specialists to make sure they identify your condition correctly.

Can I prevent Schmorl’s nodes from developing?

Schmorl’s nodes are often genetic, so you cannot always prevent them. However, avoiding excessive pressure on your lower back and maintaining a moderate weight can help minimize your risk of this condition.

If you already have Schmorl’s nodes, appropriate treatment can help prevent the condition from progressing.

Can chiropractic care help manage Schmorl’s nodes?

Many chiropractors manage Schmorl’s nodes. They can also order X-rays and spot your condition early on.

But chiropractic manipulations can sometimes cause injuries. A 2022 case report showed painful Schmorl’s node development following a chiropractic adjustment. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you speak with your doctor before deciding to have an appointment with a chiropractor.

Schmorl’s nodes are herniations of intervertebral discs that push on the adjacent vertebrae. They are most often painless but can sometimes cause acute lower back pain.

Painless Schmorl’s nodes don’t need treatment. However, severe cases of Schmorl’s nodes may require surgery.

The best way to prevent Schmorl’s nodes is to avoid excessive pressure on your back.