A bone spur, or osteophyte, is a small growth of excess bone that can develop just about anywhere in the body. However, these growths are often seen in joints either as a result of arthritic degeneration or in the aftermath of a traumatic injury. The spine is particularly prone to developing bone spurs because of the amount of stress it endures everyday.
If you have been diagnosed with a spinal bone spur as the source of your neck or back pain, an often overlooked part of treatment is educating yourself as a patient. The following guide can help you better understand this condition so you can work more closely with your doctor to find the relief you deserve.
What is a Bone Spur?
A bone spur is the body’s natural attempt to repair damage to a bone and provide stability. These smooth growths are not painful by themselves, but can cause significant discomfort when they interfere with joint mobility or come in contact with muscles, tendons, or nerves. For example, if a bone spur in the spine creates pressure on a nerve root or the spinal cord, symptoms can include pain, muscle weakness, and numbness in the extremities. Some patients experience difficulty with fine motor skills and walking.
What Causes a Bone Spur?
Generally speaking, the most common cause of bone spurs can be divided into two categories.
- The Aftermath of an Injury: Bone spurs commonly develop after the body has already healed from an injury. This can be frustrating if a person has spent time recovering from an initial injury only to experience new symptoms from bone spur formation. Bone spurs are also frequently seen in sports-related stress injuries, such as joint fractures, rotator cuff issues, and spine trauma.
- Joint Degeneration: Over the years as the cartilage that covers and protects many of the body’s joints naturally begins to deteriorate, bone spurs may develop in response to the friction caused by bone-on-bone contact. This is particularly common in the more flexible cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) regions of the spinal column where joints are at high risk for the onset of arthritis as a result of aging.
What Symptoms are Associated with Bone Spurs?
Spinal bone spurs can cause a number of symptoms. By far, the most common sign is neck or back pain, which can result from inflamed facet joints, compressed spinal nerves, or irritated muscles. Many people experience dull, localized pain while standing or walking, along with tingling sensations that travel into their arms or legs. The specific symptoms can vary based on the location of the problematic bone spurs.
Usually, the symptoms of bone spurs worsen with physical activity and improve with rest. For instance, an individual who has a bone spur in their lower back may feel better when leaning over a shopping cart or cane.
Depending on the location of a compressed nerve and the level of compression present, a bone spur can produce neurological symptoms, some of which can be severe. In addition to radiating pain and tingling sensations in the extremities, spinal nerve compression causes progressive muscle weakness, which can lead to impaired mobility.
In very rare cases, bone spurs can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms. For instance, cauda equina syndrome (CES) is an uncommon but serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. CES occurs when a bundle of nerves situated at the base of the spine is severely compressed. The cauda equina, which transmits signals to control the leg muscles and provide sensation to the lower body, but also controls bladder and bowel function.
Conservative Treatment Options
When treating spinal bone spurs, doctors will typically recommend that patients begin by experimenting with conservative treatment methods. The good news is that most patients are able to feel relief without the need for surgery or invasive treatments. You ideal course of bone spur treatment will depend on the specific location of the bone spur and what symptoms you are experiencing, but many treatment plans include an individualized combination of the following treatment methods:
- Alternating use of cold and hot compresses
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Low-impact exercise
- Gentle stretching
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Herbal pain remedies
Surgical Treatment Options
If a patient has tried these conservative methods for prolonged periods and feel no relief, there is a chance they are a candidate for surgery. BEST Health System offers minimally invasive outpatient procedures to patients whose symptoms remain severe despite rounds of conservative bone spur treatment. If you would like to learn about our procedures, which are performed by board-certified surgeons and involve less risk than traditional open-spine surgery, contact our dedicated team today. The BEST is yet to come.