Bone Spurs — Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
Bone spurs, commonly referred to as osteophytes, are the growth of extra bone usually found on our vertebrae.
Spinal bone spurs form as the body tries to heal itself by adding extra bone to a damaged area. They usually develop slowly in response to pressure, friction, or stresses. Although many people would think that spinal bone spurs are rough and jagged like the spur found on a cowboy boot, back and neck bone spurs are actually quite smooth and will often not have any symptoms at all; it is only when the spur presses on a nearby structure that they will start to cause problems.
If a spinal bone spur grows inward, it can cause pain by constricting the spinal canal and pressing on the nerve roots. When a spinal bone spur presses on surrounding nerve structures, it becomes a source of mild to severe nerve-related pain and should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.
Back or neck bone spurs usually form after a fracture of the vertebra. Vertebral fractures can be caused by a traumatic event or injury, although more often, they result from simple stresses, such as lifting. Because the spine naturally weakens from aging and daily wear and tear, spinal bone spurs are more common in older people than in younger people. Some people suffer from a heel spur, which is a bone spur on the back of the heel that causes some pain and disturbance, especially while walking.
Bone spur symptoms
As we’ve covered bone spurs meaning, let’s discuss the symptoms of this condition.
As a bone spur develops and begins to compress nerves and surrounding blood vessels, bone spur symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or pain may begin to set in. As the condition worsens, more severe nerve compression may result in muscle weakness and a loss of coordination.
A typical bone spur symptom is numbness or tingling in the extremities. The location of the bone spur and affected nerve will dictate where you feel this. For example, an affected nerve in your neck will generally produce bone spur symptoms in your shoulders and upper extremities.
Among the symptoms are:
- Neck and arm pain.
- Pain that radiates into your shoulder and down your arm.
- Numbness or tingling in the arm.
- As the condition progresses, muscular weakness may start to be seen in the arm.
- Lumbar Bone Spur Symptoms.
- Lower back pain.
- Leg pain.
- Numbness or tingling felt in the leg.
- As the condition progresses, muscular weakness may start to be seen in the leg.
In very rare cases, bowel and bladder function may also be affected. You may also feel numbness in and around the groin area (an indication that immediate surgery is required to avoid permanent damage).
Several different factors can cause bone spur formation. First and foremost, bone spur formation may occur naturally over time as we age, which is why it seems much more common in the elderly than in the younger population. Osteoarthritis, for example, is one of the common lower back pain causes linked to our natural aging process. Many people will not even know they have a bone spur until it starts to apply pressure to the surrounding nerve and muscle structures.
Diagnosis and tests for bone spurs
To diagnose a bone spur in the spine, your doctor will ask a few questions about your pain and symptoms. Some examples of questions you can expect to be asked when investigating a possible bone spur include:
- When did your pain begin?
- What were you doing when you first noticed pain?
- Was the onset of your pain slow?
- Has the pain worsened progressively?
- Are there any activities that cause your pain to increase?
- Are there any activities that cause your pain to lessen?
Next, a physical examination will allow the doctor to measure your range of motion and any tenderness around the affected area. Your physician will also likely perform a small number of nerve sensation tests to measure your reflexes.
X-ray or CT scans are often enough to identify and diagnose a bone spur in the neck or back. However, If there is suspicion that it may be putting pressure on a spinal nerve, a myelogram with dye injection may be performed to better identify the affected nerve. If a nerve is being compressed due to a bone spur, diagnostic tests such as nerve injections of numbing agents may allow the doctor to pinpoint which nerve/s may be affected by your bone spur.
Bone spurs treatment
Treatment for spinal bone spurs is usually accomplished through a conservative nature without a need for surgical intervention. Traditional bone spur treatments can often mitigate most mild to moderate nerve compression and are the typical first course of back pain treatment.
Treatment usually starts with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as medication to control the pain. Physical therapy, rest, and activity modification should be all that is required to remedy the condition, although occasionally, more aggressive treatment may be needed.
At Atlantic Spine Center, we may also recommend epidural steroid injections as an initial bone spur treatment, depending on the advancement of your condition. Epidural injections can help you feel more comfortable and more likely to progress during physical therapy successfully.
If 6 – 8 weeks of conservative back pain treatment fail to relieve your pain, spinal bone spur removal may be the next proper course of treatment. If, however, you have a loss of coordination in your arms or legs, you may need to undergo bone spur surgery sooner. This decision should be an educated one, made with the help of a doctor. For most people, conservative treatment will provide enough relief from their symptoms and will not require surgical intervention.
Bone spur removal with an endoscopic foraminotomy procedure is highly effective and has a high success rate. Although there is a chance of the bone spur developing again, your doctor should be able to educate you on preventative measures that will significantly lower this risk.
An endoscopic foraminotomy is performed with intravenous sedation and under a local anesthetic. The surgeon will make a small incision in the back of the patient to insert a special small tube. Through this tube, the surgeon is then able to gain access to the bone spur and clean away it and any other debris.
An endoscopic foraminotomy is a same-day procedure that doesn’t require general anesthesia. There is no need for an overnight hospital stay, and many patients feel relief from their leg or arm symptoms while the procedure is being done.
Full recovery after bone spur removal can be expected anywhere from roughly ten days to a few weeks.
As bone spurs result from natural processes like wear and tear, there’s not much you can do to prevent this issue.
But wearing shoes with a wide toe part and good arch support can significantly reduce the wear of tissues as the pressure from walking is well-distributed.
A balanced diet with enough vitamin D and calcium can give your body resources to protect bones and make them stronger.
Regular exercise can improve your muscles and strengthen bones, so try to add some physical activity.