A bone spur (also known as an osteophyte) is a bony outgrowth or calcium deposit that may develop around other bone, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Often your body tries to heal itself after sustaining an injury, and when your body experiences undue stress a bone spur may develop where bones meet in your joints or where ligaments and tendons connect to bone. Essentially your body is hoping that this extra bone will help to relieve the stress placed on your other bones or tissue. Some bone spurs do not cause pain or loss in range of motion (ROM), and so it is not uncommon for a bone spur to go undetected for years. It is also important to note that Osteoarthritis (the degeneration of cartilage between major joints) is a common cause of bone spurs in many of the joints in the body.
The rotator cuff consists of 4 small muscles situated close to the ball and socket joint of your shoulder (Glenohumeral joint). These muscles are connected individually to a group of flat tendons, which combine together and surround the front, back, and top of the shoulder joint like a cuff on a shirt.
As these tendons move they rub against your bones. Repetitive actions requiring the movement of these tendons often results in the development of bone spurs. These bone spurs are typically located in a narrow area between the top of the shoulder and the upper arm. This particular condition is common among athletes that perform repetitive arm movements (i.e. baseball players) and individuals that frequently work with their arms (i.e. painters and plasterers). Bone spurs on the shoulder can directly affect your range of motion and may cause pain, swelling and inflammation to the tendons in your shoulder.
A neck or cervical bone spur often presses into nerves or tissues around the neck or spine. These particular spurs occur primarily due to predisposing conditions such as osteoarthritis, disc degeneration, idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, spondylosis or spinal stenosis. Neck or cervical bone spurs may make it difficult for an individual to breathe as well as swallow. These spurs may also restrict blood flow or cause extreme pain when pressed against veins or nerves. Individuals with neck or cervical spurs may experience weakness, numbness or loss of coordination in different muscular areas in their body.
An elbow spur may occur as a result of osteoarthritis or a repetitive use injury (arm movements such as pitching in baseball or serving in tennis). A bone spur in the elbow will decrease the range of motion of the arm and cause pain when straightening or bending the elbow. This condition may also cause pain, swelling or inflammation to the nerves and tissues in the elbow.
Finger spurs usually develop as a result of cartilage degeneration in the finger joints. This degeneration is a common occurrence for those individuals suffering from osteoarthritis or regular wear and tear to the joints (aging). Bone spurs in the fingers are much more noticeable than bone spurs that develop in larger joints (i.e. shoulder, hip, or knee). These spurs will cause the fingers to appear disfigured with hard bumps under the skin. These bumps will also decrease the range of motion in the fingers and cause chronic pain.
Most hip spurs are caused by osteoarthritis or the degeneration of cartilage and bone at the ball and socket joint of the hip. The hp joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the body, so when the cartilage in this joint begins to degenerate the joint itself becomes fairly unstable. Bone spurs will then develop in order to provide much needed stability for the joint by increasing the surface area of the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone). Bone spurs located in this joint may cause pain and restrict range of motion.
The knee is a complex hinge-like joint that connects three major bones (the femur or thigh bone, the tibia or shin bone, and the patella or kneecap). These particular bones are connected via ligaments attached to the surface of each bone (the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament, medial collateral ligament). There are also two menisci in this joint to provide additional protection and support to the articular cartilage in the knee, while aiding in the distribution of weight across the joint.
Common causes of knee spurs include injury to the menisci and osteoarthritis. Each of these conditions contribute to the degeneration of articular cartilage surrounding the femor and tibia. A knee bone spur will cause pain when straightening the leg or bending the knee, thus making actions like walking and climbing stairs very difficult. Bone spurs in this joint may also cause pain, swelling or inflammation to soft tissues.
Many individuals believe that plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are the same condition. Although these injuries are similar and often occur together, they are not the same. Heel spurs are calcium deposits that develop in and around the bone and can actually be caused by plantar fasciitis.
Heel spurs develop due to overuse/overloading of the foot or poor bio-mechanics and faulty foot structures. These spurs may vary in size and shape, though they are usually shelf-like or hook-shaped. You will most likely experience a great deal of pain when walking or placing pressure on your heels. Although you may not experience any additional symptoms, it is common for the tissue around your heel spur to become tender or inflamed. Heel spurs may lead to additional knee, hip or lower back injuries.
Some bone spurs may be considered a symptom of an underlying injury or condition (such as plantar fasciitis, or osteoarthritis) and in some cases the soft tissue injuries that continue to be irritated by bone spurs will not be able to heal unless the bone spur is removed. However there are several non-surgical treatments available that will significantly reduce the pain caused by bone spurs or pain associated with additional soft tissue injuries.
Cold Compression Therapy – The R.I.C.E. Method
Cold Compression Therapy is ideal for treatment after any sort of activity that causes any pain or swelling.
Begin R.I.C.E. treatments by resting your injury as much as possible and restrict any movement to prevent further damage. Ice the swollen area 2 to 4 times a day for approximately 15 minutes (allow for 45 minute periods between treatments). Do not apply ice directly onto your body as this may cause cryoburn (freezer burn to the skin) – use a piece of cloth, towel or compression wrap to protect your injury. Compress the area if possible by adding light pressure to minimize swelling. Finally, elevate your injury to relieve swelling and allow fluid to properly drain.
Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy
If you are still experiencing some inflammation, and the area is no longer swollen you may want to explore the healing benefits of Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy (BFST). BFST decreases inflammation and increases blood circulation. Blood is the transport mechanism for oxygen, nutrients, water and antibodies, thus proper blood flow is essential when soothing pain caused by bone spurs. BFST is provided through the use of heat therapy which can be found in heating wrap products.
Therapeutic ultrasound is a method of stimulating tissue beneath the skin’s surface using sound waves. It is like a high frequency massage that can penetrate up to 4” below the surface of the skin. The heating and massaging effects of therapeutic ultrasound have 3 primary benefits: it can speed the healing process, reduce swelling, and heal damaged tissue softening scar tissue. Essentially, the nutrient absorption rate and blood flow within any injured tissue will be greatly enhanced through the use of an ultrasound device. Portable ultrasound therapy is recommended and administered by many doctors and physical therapists.
When applied directly to the skin, the transducer head of an ultrasound unit cannot effectively transfer sound waves into the body. A conductive medium (ultrasound gel) is required to facilitate therapeutic ultrasound.
Ultrasound can also be used to administer therapeutic medicines into the body which provides the added benefit of delivering soothing medicated gel to the site of the pain. This is a process known as Phonophoresis.
Bone spurs can often be removed either through arthroscopic surgery or open surgery.
During an arthroscopic procedure the surgeon will make small incisions around the joint in order to insert a small fiber optic camera into the incision. This camera will allow the surgeon to assess the damage that has been caused to your joint and the surrounding tissue. At this point the surgeon may remove calcium deposits or repair damaged tissue.
Open surgeries will have similar results and allow for the removal of any bone spurs.
It is difficult to determine the overall success of a bone spur removal surgery as it is likely that a bone spur will appear again unless the underlying condition causing the bone spur is healed during the same surgical procedure. This is a common occurrence with plantar fasciitis and rotator cuff injuries.
Extreme cases of joint pain may require joint replacement or bone fusion procedures.
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