What Causes Bone Spurs?

A bone spur (also called osteophyte) is a bone growth that forms on bone or near a cartilage or tendon. This extra bone develops as the body repairs itself in response to constant pressure, friction, or stress over a bone, usually in the spine, the shoulder, hand, hip, knee, or foot.Here are the common causes why people develop extra bone over bone.

What Causes Bone Spurs?

1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative bone condition that affects various joints of the body, including the spine. It is a common cause of low back pain, especially in older patients, that causes stiffness and pain. As you age, the cartilage that covers the ends of your bones within the joints wears away. The discs that cushion the bones of the spine also tend to break down over time, leading to swelling andpain, as well as the formation of bone spurs along the joint edges. These are usually found in the neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar) regions of the spine. As the bones thicken in the spine, the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord, can become narrower, a condition called spinal stenosis. This causes nerve pinching, which causes severe pain down the legs.

2. Tight Ligaments

What causes bone spurs in the feet?Bone spurs can also form in your feet when you have tight ligaments. For example, the ligament on the bottom of your feet (called the plantar fascia) may become tight, causing your heel bone to be pulled. This leads to inflammation (plantar fasciitis). Over time, the bone tries to repair itself and a bone spur is formed on the bottom of your heel ("heel spur"). Other factors that can lead to formation of heel spurs include increased pressure at the back of the heel, resulting from the frequent use of tight-fitting shoes (a "pump bump").This is often seen in women who frequently wear high heels. Another factor related to the causes of bone spurs is engaging in activities that put excessive stress on the feet, such as runninganddancing.

3. Friction

What causes bone spurs in the shoulder? Friction around the shoulder joint can also cause the development of bone spurs over this area. The shoulder joint has a wide range of motion. Over time, the structures in the joint, including the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons can wear down due to constant friction when they rub against each another. The rotator cuff muscles that allow you to rotate your arm extend from the shoulder blade to the upper arm are connected with tendons, which can rub constantly on their bone attachment. Bone spurs often form in this area, causing pinching of the rotator cuff tendons. This causes irritation, inflammation, pain, stiffness, weakness, and tendon tears. This condition usually occurs with age, but it can also develop with repetitive use of the shoulders, especially among athletes like baseball players, or among painters who use their arms raised above their heads.

Do I Have Bone Spurs?

Many people are not even aware that they have bone spurs because they have no symptoms at all. Sometimes, they find out they have an extra bone after an x-ray is taken for another reason such as a routine check-up.Then they wonder, what causes bone spurs?

In some cases, bone spurs cause significant pain and limitation of motion in the involved joints. Some symptoms can give you a clue that you may have bone spurs, such as:

  • Pain when bending the leg could be a symptom of the presence of bony growths in the knee.
  • Pain along the spine with associated weakness of the arms or legs could mean that bony spurs have formed in the vertebrae (bones of the spine), causing pinching of the spinal cord or nerve roots.
  • Pain when moving your hip, associated with pain in the knee could be a sign that you have bone spurs in your hip joint.
  • Swelling and pain in the shoulder with difficulty in moving the joint could mean you have bone spurs in the shoulder.
  • Hard lumps under the skin of your fingers can make your finger joints look knobby, due to bone spurs.

How to Treat Bone Spurs

Most bone spurs rarely require treatment, unless they cause frequent pain or tissue damage.

1. Self-Management

  • Most people improve with symptomatic treatment involving rest and staying away from harmful activities that could exacerbate joint pain. Ice application is recommended to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Gentle stretching exercises can help lengthen the muscles and relax the tissue surrounding a joint. This should be done several times daily, especially in the morning.
  • Supplements that have natural anti-inflammatory properties can be effective like some over-the-counter pain relievers. These include: ginger which can be taken as 1 to 2 tablets (500 mg), 3-4x daily; turmeric which can be taken 400-600 mg, 3x daily.

2. Medications

Bone spurs that cause pain can also be treated by taking anti-inflammatory medications (over-the-counter/prescription-strength), but side effects are associated with prolonged use, such as gastrointestinal upset, ulcers and bleeding. For the foot, arch support is highly recommended, however, if pain is persistent, steroid injection at the joint may be prescribed.

3. Surgery

Surgical removal of a bone spur or an operation to loosen the ligaments in the foot can also be performed. This is usually effective in individuals who do not improve with conservative treatment. However, symptoms may return if measures to prevent what causes bone spurs (such as wearing proper footwear) are not continued.

4. Other Therapies

  • Generalized tension often contributes to pain around the joints. Guided imagery and hypnosis are worth trying if anatomical problems are not apparent.
  • Try acupuncture, which is known to relieve pain.
  • Ask your doctor about using magnetic shoe inserts.
  • Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulationcan help reduce soft tissue pain.
  • Other physical therapy modalities, including deep tissue massage and taping can also be useful.
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