Bone spurs are sharp protrusions of bone material that grow on the edges of bones. As a general rule, bone spurs are not themselves painful, but they can cause pain if they come into contact with nerves or other bones. Though painful bone spurs are not overwhelmingly common, those who experience them can often find help through chiropractic means.
What Are Bone Spurs?
Also called osteophytes, bone spurs are smooth bone growths that form on the end of bones. Normal bones have a layer of cartilage at the ends, but in cases of cartilage degeneration, the body rapidly tries to compensate by adding new bone. Because cartilage degradation is most common near joints, that is where spurs are most likely to form, especially in the feet, hands, knees, and spine.
Spurs most commonly form in those also susceptible to osteoarthritis, which is a condition associated with the wearing down of cartilage. While this means that the majority of bone spurs are found in people 60 years of age or older, they can form in younger people as well. Roughly 40% of those people with spurs experience pain because of them.
Risk Factors for Spurs
As mentioned above, bone spurs are the result of the body’s mechanism to heal itself. Because they form as the body makes bone material to replace lost cartilage, conditions and activities that wear down cartilage are risk factors for spur growth. Genetics, diet, congenital bone problems, spinal stenosis, and obesity may all contribute, though perhaps the greatest factor (other than osteoarthritis) is overuse. Performing labor-intensive activities, such as dance or sports, can leave a person of any age vulnerable to bone spurs.
As mentioned above, the majority of bone spurs go unnoticed, not causing any apparent symptoms. In such cases, a person will not be aware that they have spurs until they show up on X-rays. Spurs on their own are not harmful, so treatment is only required if the spurs cause pain. This occurs when spurs press against nerves. The exact symptoms are dependent on the location of the spur.
Plantar fasciitis is a common condition occasionally caused by bone spurs in the feet. Pain follows spurs pressing on the plantar fascia, the wide tendon that runs along the bottom of the foot. Spurs in the feet or hands can also cause bumps visible through the skin, and even tendonitis or tendon tears.
Spurs can also limit movement in the joints in which they grow. If a bone spur breaks off, it is likely to get stuck in the lining of the joint, becoming what is called a “loose body.” Loose bodies can cause joints to lock, restricting their movement. Even if spurs do not break off, they can rub against other bones, bringing discomfort.
Bone spurs are most serious in the spine, where they can cause pain, numbness or weakness in the extremities, muscle spasms, cramps, or stiffness. If the spurs develop on vertebrae in the openings of nerve roots, they can narrow the space and press on nerves. This condition, called foramen stenosis, produces back pain and even bladder control issues if nerves governing such functions are restricted.
Treating Bone Spurs
If a bone spur needs to be treated, if it is causing pain, that treatment is dependent on where the spur is found. For example, supportive shoes that do not rub against your feet can relieve pressure on pedal nerves. They can also help prevent spur formation in the first place by controlling the stress your feet experience. Eating a well-rounded diet with plenty of vitamin D and calcium can protect your bones from damage as well.
If the problem is in the spine, chiropractic methods like spinal decompression can pull bone spurs off of compressed nerves, mitigating pain. Spinal decompression works by utilizing a traction table to draw the vertebrae off of each other, widening the spaces in the spine and pulling spurs off of the spinal cord. This noninvasive process, used also for the treatment of herniated and bulging discs, can relieve back pain caused by spurs.
There is also a school of thought that physical therapy can improve joint strength and prevent the formation of spurs. Allowing the body to rest after intensive use of the joints can also allow cartilage to heal before it is worn away. In cases of severe spur pain, surgery might be required, though that is never the ideal. If you suspect your pain is caused by bone spurs, give us a call at Rock Creek Spine and Rehabilitation Center.