What Is a Bone Spur?

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Bone spurs are growths that occur due to aging. These growths are medically termed osteophytes. While bone spurs are not dangerous, they can be painful growths that press against nerves. A common place for these osteophytes to grow is in the vertebrae. The vertebrae are protective bones for the spinal cord. When bone spurs grow in this area, the nerves become impacted and cause back pain for patients.

Symptoms

Because bone spurs mostly affect vertebrae, most patients experience pain in the back or the neck. The pain is caused from the growths and pressure on the nerve, so the pain can progressively worsen as the bone spur grows. For pressure on nerves that control muscles, twitching and spasms may occur. Some patients may experience muscle weakness. Pain may radiate to other areas of the body as well, depending on the location of the pressure

Risk Factors

Bone spurs are a consequence of aging, so as patients age they are more likely to develop the condition. The condition starts from a wearing down of the ligaments that attach the vertebrae together. When these ligaments loosen, the body attempts to compensate by growing more ligament tissue. A consequence of this compensation is the development of bone spurs. Bone spurs can also grow after an injury. Additionally, heredity can be a factor.

Diagnosis

Patients are normally unaware of the growths until pain occurs. The patient visits a physician where diagnosis begins. The doctor will perform a physical examination to rule out any underlying conditions or diseases. The physician tests the functionality of the nerves by conducting an electroconductive test. An X-ray of the bones is taken to observe an image of the vertebrae structure. Physicians may also perform a CT scan or MRI.

Treatment

Most treatment of bone spurs is through surgery to remove the excess bone that has formed. Drug treatments are also available to relieve pain. Cortisone in the area where the spurs have formed is a popular method of reducing the swelling and inflammation. Other drugs are also useful for inflammation. Physical therapy is also prescribed, along with rest and relaxation to limit the amount of pressure on the nerves.

Surgery

Many patients need to undergo surgery to remove bone spurs. Bone spur surgery is recommended for patients who have chronic pain or who are unable to function due to the condition. Bone spur surgery is performed using two methods. The first method is open surgery, which takes longer for the patient to recover from. The surgeon opens the area around the joint and cuts out the spur. The second method is performed by creating tiny incisions and inserting the tools necessary for removal. This type of arthroscopic surgery requires less recovery time.

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