OrthoNeuroSpine & Pain Institute
What is a bone spur?
A bone spur is an accumulation of excess bone growth on normal bone in and around a joint. They are also called osteophytes.They commonly occur as we age and are found in any joint in the body, including the spinal facet joints and intervetebral discs.Bone spurs can aggravate the facet joints of the spine and cause a narrowing of the foraminal canal. Bone spurs ultimately lead to stability and natural bone fusion. A bone spur is often a response to an injury or abnormal pressure or stress at a spot on a normal bone that continues over a long period of time. They can also be a natural result of aging, as the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within joints deteriorates. Certain inflammatory arthritis conditions can also form bone spurs such as rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms?
Bone spurs can restrict the foraminal canal of the spine (the openings where nerves exit) and cause a pinched nerve. Most bone spurs are not symptomatic. However, symptoms of a pinched nerve may include extremity pain, sciatica, numbness, and in severe cases muscle weakness and even partial paralysis.
What causes bone spurs?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, but it may also be the most deficient. The amount of calcium that we absorb from our food varies widely. One factor is age. An adolescent may absorb up to 75% of the calcium obtained from foods, while in adults the maximum absorption rate ranges from 20% to 30%. Even though our bones feel solid and seem permanent, they're just like any other body tissue - they're constantly being broken down and formed again. In an adult, 20% of bone calcium is withdrawn from bones and replaced each year, thus, every five years the bones are renewed.
Calcium is found in the extra cellular fluids and soft tissues of the body where it is vital to normal cell functioning. Much of the calcium in soft tissues is concentrated in muscle, although it is contained in the membrane and cytoplasm of every cell. The role of calcium is so vital in these fluids and tissues that if it's supply runs low the body will actually leach calcium from its own bones.
Wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis) is the most common cause of bone spurs. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage cushioning the ends of your bones, your body attempts to repair the loss by creating bone spurs near the damaged area. The extra bone may help increase the amount of surface area for load bearing.
What are the effects of bone spurs?
Bone spurs can cause problems in the back when they form in and around the facet joints and the intervertebral disc. Facet joints have a rich nerve supply, including tiny nerve endings called nociceptors that are responsible for a specific type of back pain.
The facet joint can develop bone spurs, or osteophytes, as well as synovial cysts that act as cushions to prevent arthritic bone from grinding against other structures.
If an excessive amount of bone spurs form, they can occupy and narrow the foraminal canal that is formed by the facet joint above and below each vertebra. They can also cause narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing can cause pinching of the exiting nerve root that is trying to exit the spine on its way to one of extremities. If symptoms of a pinched nerve occur due to this condition, it is called foraminal stenosis.
What are risk factors of spinal bone spurs?
Osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis, and the natural aging process are the most common risk factors of spinal bone spurs.
How do I know if my symptoms are being caused by a spinal bone spur?
When nerves and surrounding blood vessels are impinged, the patient starts to experience symptoms of numbness, tingling, or pain. A more severe constriction may result in muscle weakness. The location of the bone spur and affected nerve will dictate where you experience symptoms.
Are there bone spurs exercises I can perform to help with my pain?
Yes. Although the natural reaction to pain is to rest, it is the best to get moving again as soon as possible to ensure your bones don’t become brittle and to avoid worsening the condition. However, if you are experiencing pain, you should consult with one of our physicians to be sure bone spurs exercises are safe for your condition.
Can medication help my bone spur?
Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants are sometimes prescribed as bone spur medication for four to six weeks. Anti-inflammatory bone spur medication will help to reduce pain and swelling at areas of inflammation. If oral medications are not sufficient, cortisone (epidural steroid) injections may be considered as a bone spur medication option.
Is physical therapy good for a spinal bone spur?
Bone spur therapy can help restore flexibility and strength to the neck and back, improve posture, and possibly decrease the compression on the nerves. However, nerve compression with radiating pain into an arm and/or leg should be clinically investigated before beginning any type of therapy. If bone spur therapy is not successful and bone spurs begin to limit your range of motion or become extremely painful, you may need surgery.
What treatments are needed?
Bone spurs are not generally treated themselves, but may be removed as part of treatment for a condition they contribute to, such as facet arthritis, foraminal stenosis, or spinal stenosis.