Getting to the (Nerve) Root of Spinal Bone Spurs
Osteophytes (bone spurs) can form in many parts of the body, including the spine. Developing over time, bone spurs tend to form where the joints are. These small bone growths manifest on the edges of our bones.
While bone spurs sound like they should be spikey, in reality they’re smooth and round. Bone spurs can form without presenting symptoms. They only hurt when they’re applying pressure to nearby nerves or rub against other tissue. This can cause pain and stiffness.
Most commonly seen in patients over the age of 60, osteophytes require treatment by about 40% of people who experience them.
Why Bone Spurs Happen
Dysfunction in the joints is the most common cause of bone spurs and that dysfunction is usually caused by osteoarthritis. This degenerative condition wears down cartilage in affected joints.
Cartilage helps to protect your joints and when it’s worn down, bones are more vulnerable to structural changes and inflammation. In turn, cartilage loss leads to ligament thickening and calcium deposits, causing abnormal bone growth.
Bone spurs are a response to being exposed, which provokes the formation of bone spurs. Ultimately, joint mobility is impacted and adjacent nerves and tissue becoming compressed.
Another cause of osteophytes is diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH). While this disease doesn’t cause inflammation, it’s not well understood.
But those with DISH have an elevated risk of developing bone spurs. In fact, 80% of this patient cohort will develop them.
Bone spurs are usually asymptomatic (no pain or symptoms). Bone spurs in the fingers, for example may present as visible bumps on the joints. As pointed out earlier, only 40% of people will need to seek medical treatment for osteophytes.
When bone spurs form in the knee, they may impede mobility, making it difficult to fully extend the leg. In the shoulder, they can be responsibility for rotator cuff swelling and inflammation in the joint. In the hip joints, bone spurs can severely impede mobility.
But bone spurs in the spine have the largest number of possible symptoms. Nerve roots can be implicated, as well as the spinal cord. Symptoms for bone spurs in the spine include numbness and pain.
Spinal osteophytes can also produce the sensation of pins and needles and pain which radiates to the arms or legs (depending on location).
If you suspect you have bone spurs, it’s important that you seek a doctor’s opinion. Your primary caregiver will perform an examination and produce an initial assessment. If it’s determined that you have bone spurs, you’ll be referred to a specialist to confirm your diagnosis.
You may also be scheduled for imaging diagnostics like X-Ray, CT Scan or an MRI.
Treatment models vary widely for osteophytes and range from injections to reduce inflammation and pain to physical therapy.
In rare cases, surgery may be indicated. Your doctor will exhaust all conservative modalities before moving to surgery, though.
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