Osteophytes (Bone Spur) Definition, Causes, Risk Factors, Complications
What are Bone Spurs?
Bone spurs, also called lumbar osteophytes are bony growths that form on normal bone along joint margins, particularly in the lower back as a result of the constant wear and tear resulting in the gradual degeneration of the spine.
Bone spurs may sound like sharp bony projections growing on your bone, but bone spurs are actually smooth and are sometimes harmless. But most of the time, when bone spurs come in contact with other bones and related soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and can cause wear and tear. Bone spurs can also cause pain, especially when it comes in contact with a nerve. Not only that, when a bone spur comes in contact with a nerve in the spine, they can cause severe pain and neurological symptoms.
Bone spurs may grow on any joint margin in your body, but they particularly have grown in areas like the shoulders, hips, feet, knees, hands and especially in the spine. In the case of the spine, spinal osteoarthritis or spondylosis and spinal stenosis may be the cause of bone spur formations.
What Causes Bone Spurs?
Now, bone spurs may sound scary, and they are in a sense, and you may find yourself asking: what causes bone spurs?
Bone spurs are primarily caused by extra stress as well as wear and tear in the bones in your body, and your body then tries to compensate for this and create extra bones in an attempt to repair itself. Abnormal pressure on your back, rubbing, and stress in your body can also cause the formation of bone spurs.
Generally, bone spurs come with age, as the weakening of your bones due to osteoarthritis causes their formation. As you may or may not know, osteoarthritis causes the slippery tissue that covers the ends of our joints called cartilage to break down over in time, causing bone on bone wear and tear. Bone spurs are then created by your body in an attempt to compensate for this lack of cartilage.
Bone spurs can manifest themselves in any bone and joint in your body, and it is also important to ask yourself what causes bone spurs in these other parts of your body.
What Causes Bone Spurs in the Spine?
Bone spurs in the spine are caused primarily by spinal osteoarthritis or spondylosis and its formation is accelerated by improper posture, poor nutrition or traumatic injury in that area. The cartilage in the spine breaks down in the case of spondylosis, and extra movement occurs in the joint margins along the spine. Bone spurs are then formed as a result of the body’s attempt to repair itself.
What Causes Bone Spurs in the Feet?
Bone spurs in the feet, on the other hand, are caused by the body’s response to tight ligaments, and constant pressure, wear and tear due to activities that put stress on the feet. Some of these activities include running and dancing. Being overweight can also cause bone spurs as there is extra pressure on the bones of your body particularly in the feet due to the extra pressure your weight puts on you. Wearing shoes that fit poorly on your feet can be a legitimate cause of concern for the formation of bone spurs, especially in areas such as the bottom of your foot and the back of your heel.
What Causes Bone Spurs in your Shoulder?
The joints in your shoulder are also a common site of bone spur formations. This is because there is extra wear and tear on the joints of your shoulder as it is able to move in different directions, and as you may know, gets used in a lot of day to day activities. The frequent use of your shoulder leads to the gradual wear and tear of the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendon, and cartilage in its joints.
Bone spurs are most commonly formed in the narrow area between the top of your shoulder and the upper arm. This is because this narrow space tends to get the frequent activity that may cause rubbing of bone to bone. The bone spurs that form in this area cause pinching between the tendons in your shoulder and it can cause pain, irritation, inflammation, and stiffness.
What are the Risk Factors associated with Osteophytes or Bone Spurs?
As you may or may not know, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of having bone spurs. Perhaps one of the biggest risk factors of you having bone spurs is if you have osteoarthritis. This is because osteoarthritis wears down the joints and the corresponding cartilages, bones, muscles, and tendons involved. This damage to your joints causes your body to compensate and repair itself through the formation of bone spurs.
Bone Spur Symptoms and Diagnostic Procedures
What are the most common Bone Spur Symptoms?
Commonly, bone spurs can cause no signs or symptoms, and can often be found accidentally when undergoing an x-ray for another bone-related illness such as osteoarthritis. Most people don’t realize they have the condition because they don’t experience bone spur symptoms themselves. Bone spur symptoms, however, in the rare case they do a show, can be a cause of severe pain, loss of motion in your body parts, and even neurological problems in the case of bone spur symptoms in your spine.
Most bone spur symptoms manifest themselves in the area where the bone spurs actually occur such as:
- Bone spurs in the Spine – Bone spurs in the spine can be a cause for concern as they can cause certain neurological problems to arise. Back pain or neck pain is one of the most common symptoms that is caused by the joints in your spinal cord being inflamed and the muscles in your back and neck become irritated. The pain from your back and neck can radiate into the nearby muscles such as those in your shoulders, and can also cause a headache. This is because most of the time though, bone spur symptoms in the spine can cause numbness or weakness in your arms and legs. When experiencing bone spur symptoms in the spine there may be tingling in the arms and legs, as well as the weakness that will get progressively worse. In severe cases, you will have difficulty moving these body parts, and bladder and bowel incontinence may take effect.
- Bone spurs in the Shoulders – Bone spur symptoms can also be apparent in the shoulders, especially when bone spurs rub on your rotator cuff. A rotator cuff is a group of tendons, muscles, and other tissues that are responsible for helping your control your shoulder movements. The rotator cuff, in the case of bone spurs, can become swollen and may tear your rotator cuff.
- Bone spurs in the Feet – Bone spurs in the feet, which are caused by constant stress and pressure, as well as the wearing of improper footwear, can impair the functions of your feet. Bone spurs can irritate the muscles, tendons, and cartilage in your feet that help you walk and perform daily activities. As a result, you may have difficulty walking, running, or doing anything that requires the strenuous use of your feet. Bone spurs in your feet can also cause corns and callouses in that area. This is because the tissue and skin in your feet can build up to provide padding for the bone spurs that form.
- Bone spurs in your Fingers – Bone spurs can also happen in your fingers, and can appear as hard lumps under your skin. Bone spur symptoms in this area can cause the joints in your fingers to look knobby and may cause the impaired function of your fingers.
- Bone spurs in the Knee – Bone spurs in the knee can severely affect your leg’s function. This is because the bony protrusions in your knee will make it hard for you to bend and extend your leg. This can cause your knee to be impaired from functioning smoothly, and can also affect how you walk.
- Bone spurs in the Hips – Bone spur symptoms that can occur in your hips can make it difficult for you to move your hip due to pain and weakness. Sometimes, bone spurs that happen in your hip can manifest themselves in your knee, and you may feel that the bone spurs are present in your knee. Bone spur symptoms in your hips include difficulty in moving your hip joints and a reduced range of motion.
How are Bone Spurs Diagnosed?
If ever you are feeling pain or swelling in a joint in your body, and have difficulty moving the body parts associated with that joint then it is important that you make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Bone spurs can be primarily viewed on an x-ray. An x-ray can show a complete view of the bones in the area where you feel pain emanating, and bone spurs can then be identified by an attending specialist.
But since most people who have bone spurs don’t actually feel any symptoms, then an x-ray would not be plausible as the person would not normally go to have an x-ray without feeling anything strange related to the bones and joints in your body.
This is why bone spurs are commonly associated with other conditions such as osteoarthritis and back pain as these conditions need an x-ray to be diagnosed. Bone spurs are found during these x-rays and can be the leading cause or may contribute to the pain the person is feeling, along with arthritis.
Bone Spur Treatment and Aftercare
What is the most common treatment for a bone spur out there?
In most Bone Spur treatments and cases, if the bone spurs themselves are not causing any harm, then they do not need to be treated. But in the case where they are causing pain to the person and damaging the tissues in the immediate vicinity of the bone spur, treatment for a bone spur is definitely needed. There are many ways to treat the condition, and the bone spur treatment can be directed at the cause of the bone spur, at the symptoms, or at the bone spur itself.
Treatment for the Cause of the Bone Spur
Treatment for a bone spur directed at the cause of the condition may involve weight loss methods in order to reduce the pressure and stress that your joints are feeling. This is to prevent any further bone spurs from forming and to prevent the ones present from worsening and doing any more damage to your bones, muscles and other soft tissues.
This treatment is mostly used when the cause of the bone spur is osteoarthritis and plantar fasciitis (a condition in the arch of your foot) related. This treatment for a bone spur also involves stretching the area affected by the bone spur, especially in the areas of your feet such as the heel cord and the bottom of your feet. For bone spur treatment related to its cause, you can also choose to see a therapist to inquire about deep tissue massage which is helpful for bone spurs in your plantar fasciitis and shoulders.
Bone Spur Treatment for its Symptoms
Treatment for a bone spur can also be directed at the symptoms of the condition. Example of Bone spur treatments for its symptoms include NSAIDs, stretching, rest, and application of ice. NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are primarily used to treat the symptoms such as pain and inflammation, and the most common ones in use are ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium.
Bone spurs in your feet and the symptoms associated with it can be treated with the changing of your footwear into a more comfortable one to help your foot relax and relieve some of the pressure and stress directed at it. In the case of plantar fasciitis, adding an orthopedic padding that supports your heel arch to your shoes will prove helpful for the treatment of a bone spur.
If the bone spur symptoms such as pain and inflammation will persist, and in the worst case scenario, progressively get worse, then the doctor can prescribe you with corticosteroid injections to the area affected. A corticosteroid injection can significantly reduce the swelling and pain experienced by the muscles, cartilage, tendons, and joints in the area affected by the bone spur.
Bone Spur Treatment for the Condition Itself
In severe cases where the bone spur can limit your range of motion, and press on various nerves in the affected body part causing severe pain and numbness, the bone spur may require surgical removal. Bone spurs themselves can be surgically removed or treated, and this procedure is common in the case of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis-related treatment for a bone spur involves repairing or replacing that joint to remove the bone spur, especially when the bone spur has caused severe damage and deformity to the surrounding bones and soft tissues.
Some examples of surgical removal as a treatment for a bone spur include the repair of a bunion or heel spur in your foot, as well as the removal of small bone spurs in your shoulder that can possibly tear your rotator cuff.
Bone Spur Removal Aftercare
Bone spur removal can limit the activities that you are able to do immediately after the first few days after the surgery. Hence, everyday chores and activities might not be possible immediately and you might not be able to go to work. However, physical therapy can be done to the affected area after a few days, and soon after that, you will be able to resume work and everyday activities.
Immediately after a surgery, the doctor will have a large bandage covering the area where the surgery was performed. You might also have a support or cast in place, for example, a sling on your shoulders to support the weight or crutches for your feet to avoid pressure and stress. Upon 24-48 hours of the surgery, it is recommended to apply ice to the affected area, for a few minutes at a time to help reduce swelling and help you cope with the pain.
Sleeping will be difficult for the first few days after surgery, and you might be instructed to sleep in a position where the affected part is not affected or will not cause you any pain while you sleep.
It is then recommended to do light exercises a few weeks or a month after having the surgery to strengthen the muscles in the area affected, as well as to regain the ability to use that body part in its full function.