Dr. Kaixuan Liu with Atlantic Spine Center discusses bone spurs, how they're removed and what to expect during recovery.
Bone spurs can develop in several parts of the body, but when they grow on the spine and cause severe symptoms, removing them is an option. Luckily, the recovery time from this surgical procedure usually proceeds quickly and smoothly, according to Endoscopic Spine Surgeon Dr. Kaixuan Liu. Typically developing over time due to stresses in the spine, for example those that occur with injury, aging or arthritis, bone spurs in the back or neck can become painful if they grow inward, pressing on nerve roots. When that happens, nerve pain can range from mild to severe and should be evaluated by a doctor, says Dr. Liu, who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery.
"As a bone spur develops and starts to compress surrounding nerves and blood vessels, symptoms such as numbness, tingling and pain often follow," he explains. "When the condition worsens, severe nerve compression can even result in muscle weakness and a loss of coordination that make bone spur removal surgery a logical choice. In rare cases, the compression can affect bowel and bladder function as well as cause numbness in and around the groin area, signaling a medical emergency that requires immediate surgery."
How are bone spurs removed?
After a thorough diagnostic process that may involve a physical examination, nerve sensation tests and imaging scans, spinal bone spurs are typically treated conservatively at first, Dr. Liu says. Non-surgical treatment often includes measures such as taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and other pain medications, physical therapy, rest, activity modifications, and sometimes epidural steroid injections.
If after 6 to 8 weeks of conservative treatment fail to relieve spinal bone spur pain and it's severely limiting your activities, bone spur removal surgery may be warranted, Dr. Liu says. The go-to surgical procedure for the problem is known as an "endoscopic foraminotomy", a minimally invasive, same-day procedure that doesn't require general anesthesia. "The surgeon makes a small incision in the back to insert an endoscopic tube, through which the surgeon can access the bone spur and clean it away using surgical tools," he explains. "Endoscopic foraminotomy is a highly effective surgery for bone spur removal and comes with a high success rate."
What can you expect from recovery?
Because an endoscopic foraminotomy to remove spinal bone spurs doesn't require general anesthesia or an overnight hospital stay, patients get a head start on recovery. "Many patients remark that their bone spur symptoms in their leg or arm are already improving even as the procedure is being completed," Dr. Liu says. A Full recovery from bone spur removal can take roughly 10 days to a few weeks, he notes. And much of that recovery timeline is up to the patient. "Following your doctor's guidelines for activities to avoid or exercises to do to help your spine heal properly is very important," Dr. Liu says, noting that recovery time would be longer if a more invasive type of surgery is necessary to remove the bone spur. "It's key to be patient as you recover,' he adds. 'Doing too much too soon can slow your recovery time and make getting better much harder. But the good news is that bone spur removal surgery in the spine greatly helps the vast majority of patients quickly get back to living with no pain and more enjoyment of everyday activities."
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