Bony projections that develop on the edges of your bones are called osteophytes, or bone spurs. Bone spurs can form on the bones of your spine in your neck and back, as well as any other bones in your body. Normal wear-and-tear during aging can cause bone spurs to develop. Also, osteoarthritis may induce bone spur formation. Many times no signs or symptoms of bone spurs occur, but in some instances they may cause pain and reduced joint movement.
Bone spur formation does not form spiked bony projections as you would believe, but form smooth protruding structures. Symptoms of bone spurs depend on the location of the bony growths. Bone spurs along the spinal column may pinch nerves running between the vertebrae and cause severe pain, restricted movement, weakened arms and legs or numbness. Pinched nerves in the neck can cause headaches, neck stiffness or shoulder pain, while lower nerve impingement may cause pain to the buttocks and thighs or loss of coordination during walking.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Bone spur diagnosis can be made by a qualified physician after a complete physical exam, history and possible diagnostics. A neurological exam should be able to determine if nerves have become pinched by bone spur formation and X-rays will likely assist in visualization of the bone spurs. Sometimes, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or myelography is needed to determine the exact location of nerve impingement.
Treatment is usually conservative unless serious disability is present. Physical therapy can help strengthen surrounding muscles, which force better posture and vertebral alignment to reduce pain. Medications can be prescribed to treat pain and inflammation. Also, a collar brace may be worn to allow irritated tissues in the neck to rest and recover. More severe pain may require steroid or anesthetic injections to reduce bone spur pain and inflammation. It is uncommon for spinal bone spurs to require surgery, but it may be necessary in certain neurological cases to surgically remove intruding bone spurs.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Bone spur formation is a slow process that usually does not cause nerve compression until 60 to 70 years of age. Heredity, nutrition, posture, life-style and injuries can accelerate the degenerative process. Occupations that require repetitive neck or back movements possibly increase your risk of developing bone spurs. Certain conditions, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis can increase the risk of bony changes that lead to bone spurs. Bone spurs are common in older adults, but only about 40 percent of individuals will develop bone spur symptoms that require medical treatment. Staying in good physical condition and using correct posture will likely minimize your risk of bone spur formation.
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