Should You be Worried About a Bone Spur
Arthritis happens to millions worldwide, especially with age. The condition can develop at any part of the body — including the hands — and can be one cause of bone spurs. While this may cause you panic; know that bone spurs are a natural occurrence. While some may be benign, there are some cases where these spurs can cause serious discomfort. The key is understanding why the hand forms bone spurs and how to treat them. This can help you lead a more comfortable life.
What are Bone Spurs? Joints connect several bones in the body. These joints should be stable and make a smooth, natural movement. But when joints become unstable and move out of place, the body reacts by growing bits of bone along the edges of the joint to compensate. These protrusions of bone are called “bone spurs” or “osteophytes.” While these growths can happen at any joint in the body, bone spurs in the hand appear as bumps on the joints. Most people think of something sharp when they think of a “spur,” but a bone spur is just extra bone that is usually smooth. Most spurs are harmless, but some can cause wear and tear or pain if it presses or rubs on other bones or soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, or nerves in the body. In these cases, persons with bone spurs need some medical intervention.
What Causes a Bone Spur?
Osteoarthritis is the biggest cause of bone spurs in the hand. Arthritis in the hand impacts an average of 7% of Americans aged 26 and older. As we age, the slippery tissue called cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within joints breaks down and eventually wears away (osteoarthritis). That smooth cartilage protects joints and prevents shock absorption. Arthritis can also form due to aging joints or a past injury. With degraded cartilage, joints become unstable and can’t move naturally. Bone spurs then develop to compensate for the degenerated cartilage.
Age-related arthritis is not the only cause of extra growth. A past injury or surgical procedure can cause trauma or early arthritis. Spurs will grow to compensate in the hands. Joints can also form spurs from overuse, for example, in a job that uses repetitive hand movements. A bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It typically forms in response to pressure, rubbing, or stress that continues over a long period of time. Other reasons include genetics, obesity, and diabetes.
What are the symptoms? Many people have bone spurs without ever knowing it, because most bone spurs cause no symptoms. But if the bone spurs are pressing on other bones or tissues or are causing a muscle or tendon to rub, they can break that tissue down over time, causing swelling, pain, and tearing. Bone spurs can cause pain and discomfort in the hands if left untreated. If protrusions or small knobs appear on the hands, seek advice from a doctor. From there, the doctor can assess and recommend the best treatment options available.
What is the Treatment for Bone Spurs?
The treatment for bone spurs looks similar to that of arthritis. Treatment directed at symptoms could include rest, ice, stretching, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Education in how to protect your joints is helpful if you have osteoarthritis. If pain persists, several rounds of physical therapy can reduce pain and restore range of motion. Treatments could also include steroid injections. If the bone spur continues to cause symptoms, your doctor may suggest a corticosteroid injection at the painful area to reduce pain and inflammation of the soft tissues next to the bone spur.
In serious cases, doctors can perform reconstructive surgery. By making small incisions in the hand, surgeons can use minimally invasive techniques to remove bone spurs. Some persons may even need joint replacement or joint fusion surgery.
Since most bone spurs do not cause problems, it is not necessary to take an X-ray just to see whether you have a bone spur. If you had an X-ray to evaluate one of the problems associated with bone spurs, such as arthritis, bone spurs would be visible on that X-ray.
If you have a painful bone spur, please contact McDaid Ortho Hand today for a consultation.