Bone spurs are simply bony outgrowths. They can take on different shapes. In your spine, bone spurs can pose particular problems. They are mostly found in your neck and lower back. They are of concern when the bony outgrowth compromises nerves or even the spinal cord.
Bone spurs, unlike the normal surface of joints and vertebrae, are uneven and resemble icicles hanging from the roof of the canal and passageway of the nerves and the spinal cord. The sharp and uneven surface of the bone spurs can lead to narrowing of these important passageways.
Symptoms of a Bone Spur
Bone spurs can lead to narrowing of the exit site of the nerve root, pinching the nerve root and cause shooting pain in your arm and leg. Later on, depending on the extent of the pressure on the nerve, you may experience muscle weakness. Pain can change into tingling and burning sensation. At times “looking-up” can cause a pinching sensation in the back of your neck and shooting pain in your shoulder and arm.
In your lower back, bone spurs cause leg pain, localized back pain and muscle spasm. Most patients experience progressive worsening neck and/or back pain. Initially, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may bring relief.
Changing work ergonomics, neck exercises and attention to better posture can help maintain and prolong the pain-free interval. In other cases, pain and discomfort return, interfering with your day-to-day function and even sleep. Pain can travel to the side of your neck, into the shoulder, arm and fingers. It may be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.
Causes of a Bone Spur
Bone spurs can be caused by traumatic events, such as a healed fracture. Other times they form in reaction to stress put on your joint, or because of arthritis. The normal contour of the passageways of the nerve and spinal canal is altered. Bone spurs are typically bony structures and tend not to resolve spontaneously.
Diagnosis of a Bone Spur
Initial plain X-rays can demonstrate nerve passageway narrowing. Diagnosis of the narrowing of the spinal canal can be evaluated better using cross-sectional imaging techniques like computed tomography (CT scan).
Newer 3-dimensional imaging techniques are also available to show the bone spur in great detail. St. Vincent Spine Institute uses 3-dimensional imaging of the spine during minimally invasive surgery.
Please refer to the video for an example of a bone spur causing narrowing of the nerve passageway in the neck. The 3-dimensional video fly-through allows for true-to-life imaging of the spine that is representative of your anatomy.
After appropriate diagnosis, your spine specialist will discuss with you a treatment plan based on your individual symptoms and neurological findings.
The least invasive options are considered first. Conservative care, including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants and postural training, are discussed. In case of failure of these measures, pain management options, such as injections may be tried. In the event of significant nerve or spinal canal compromise, surgical decompression will be discussed with you.
If you require surgical decompression, both neck and back surgeries can be accomplished through small incisions. The surgery is performed through a microscope with minimal blood loss and scarring. You will probably be able to go home the same day. You are encouraged to walk but avoid strenuous exercises, and bending, lifting and twisting for two weeks.
You are encouraged to walk. Generally patients experience significant relief of their symptoms and are able to enjoy life without constant pain. Our protocols are thoroughly discussed with you to ensure a rapid and pain-free recovery. You are instructed to avoid heavy lifting, bending, and twisting for the first two weeks. Physical therapy generally begins by the third post-operative week.