A bone spur is a relatively common condition that can occur almost anywhere in the body. Bone spurs are often caused by osteoarthritis, which is inflammation of joints caused by the wearing away of cartilage with age. When the protective layer of cartilage wears away, bones of the joints begin to rub directly against each other, which can lead to stiffness and pain. Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are the body’s natural attempt to stabilize the affected joint.
The facet joints in the spine are especially prone to developing bone spurs because of the tremendous amount of pressure and wear that are placed upon them on a daily basis. Although not always painful, there is a likelihood of these growths narrowing the nerve pathways in the spine and causing compression. The resulting symptoms can be very difficult to live with, affecting your ability to do simple activities like working in the yard or preparing a meal. Having a better understanding of what causes a spinal bone spur can help in both the treatment and prevention of this condition.
Risk factors that cause spinal bone spurs
The biggest underlying cause of bone spurs, and the degenerative conditions that lead to them, is aging. While no one is able to reverse the aging process, there are other preventable risk factors associated with spine conditions like arthritis and degenerative disc disease. These include:
- Carrying excessive weight, which places more pressure on the joints
- Sustaining trauma due to auto accidents or other injuries
- Repetitive twisting or turning often associated with playing certain sports or performing certain jobs
- Tobacco and excessive alcohol use, which can both cause joint inflammation and speed up the effects of aging
Symptoms and treatment options
Radiating symptoms related to nerve compression by a bone spur will vary according to location in the spine. For example, bone spur growth in the cervical (upper) spine may cause symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. A bone spur in the lumbar (lower) spine can affect the lower back and cause pain, numbness and weakness in the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.
Upon diagnosing a bone spur as the source of these symptoms, doctors will usually first prescribe conservative treatments. Recommended options include rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise, physical therapy and massage. Surgery to remove these excess bone growths and take pressure off of the affected nerve may be considered if weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment does not bring the relief needed to engage in normal activities.
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To learn more, and find out if you may be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures, reach out to us today for a no-cost MRI review.