Bone Spurs

A photo of a spiny cactus to depict what a bone spur feels like.

What Is A Bone Spur Or Osteophyte

A spur or osteophyte forms when calcium and connetive tissue deposits build up along the edges of bones and especially the edges of joints. Although they sound painful, they are not usually sharp as their name suggests. Bone spurs are smooth, bony growths that developed over a long period. Bone spurs are surprisingly painless in many cases. However,  there is often a local inflammatory processes that causes the spurs to grow, and the inflammation may be causing pain even if the spurs themselves are not. Spurs can be in various areas of the body, and may mind their own business, or may impinge upon a nerve, a tendon, or other adjacent tissue/organ, which will then cause pain. The spur may also break off, and land in the middle of the joint, which can cause a lot of irritation. So, although a spur may often not cause pain, they can be the source of terrible pain if they impinge onto an adjacent body part.

Various Possible Causal Factors

  • Stress Related
  • Injury induced
  • Inflammation
  • Ph imbalance

 

Osteoarthritis As A Common Associated Factor

Bone spurs are inflammation or trauma/stress related. They are associated with osteoarthritis and decreased healthy cartilage.  In this condition there is degeneration of the joint over time which changes shape, can get smaller and cartilage wears away. As the inflammation/osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage, it is thought that your body tries to compensate for the lost cartilage by building up the bone along the edges of the joint. This takes place over a period of time in response to stress from rubbing or pressure.

Studies suggest that inflammation may increase enzymes that destroy collagen which is necessary in bones and joints. Collagen is a component of cartilage along with proteoglycons and chondrocytes. Cartilage is necessary for cushioning the bodies joints.

Articular cartilage helps to cushion the joints where they come together. Articular carilage is made from hyaline cartilage, and covers the ends of the bones within a joint. These are the slick, smooth, and shiny surface you see on the end of joint bones in a chicken or beef you are preparing for food. These cartilaginous surfaces reduce friction during movement of the joint.

It is my personal opinion that inflammation causes most of the degeneration seen over time in our bodies and it can be caused by a local reaction or it can be a systemic inflammation that is from another part of the body or from an environmental toxin. Inflammation of the joints can be caused by over-use, extreme pressures, environmental toxins, food sensitivities, chronic low level microbial, parasitic or viral disease, heavy metal accumulation, and even emotional/mental/spiritual stress. Basically, anything that puts stress on the body usually ends up causing inflammation if the causative factor is not dealth with in a timely fashion. Find the cause of the inflammation, attend to the cause, and it will prevent future osteoarthritis, and spurs.

The Other Possible Causal Factors

  • Osteoporosis can also influence spur formation. It too has an inflammatory component itself. See the article on osteoporosis for additional ideas or factors that can lead to bone spurs.
  • Inflammation is the number one factor - find the cause of inflammation and remove it.
  • Injury to a bone or joint might initiate the creation of a bone spur as part of the healing process.
  • Stress on a body part that has joints involved - wear and tear as one gets older or is hard on their body and obesity also places stress on the joints.
  • Extra stress from
    • work or sports, especially repetetive high pressure on the joints, or shearing stress on the joints.
    • Lack of proper shoe support can cause an increase stress on joints in the feet, ankle, knees, hips, back and neck.
    • Obesity - added weight puts strain on the joints.
    • Over use of the joint causing tissue damage
  • Age - the older we are, the more use our bodies get.
  • Genetics - Those who have trouble absorbing calcium or tend to pull it out of the bones have added trouble with spurs.
  • Lack of sleep - Deep sleep is necessary to decrease inflammation and to heal.
  • Dietary lack or excess of bone building nutrients.
  • Fluoride causing fluorosis appears related to the growth of bone spurs present in the bone and joints of people with fluorosis.
  • Ph imbalance from diet or other reasons that removes calcium to balance an acidic Ph and then replaces calcium in an inadequate manner. (long held thought by practitioners but not finding any research yet to support it)
  • Regarding heal spurs, poorly fitting shoes and lack of support in the shoe can add to the growth of bone spurs.

Where Do You See Bone Spurs

  • Spine: You can get bone spurs on the neck or lower back from Spondylosis or degeneration of the bones in the neck or lower back. You can get bone growths on the spine or the ligaments of your spine
  • Foot and Ankle: Plantar fasciitis can induce a bone spur on the bottom of the heel due to chronic inflammation of the connective tissue. The pain is not usually from the bone spur but from the plantar fasciitis.
  • Hip: Will reduce range of motion here and can be painful.
  • Shoulder: The motion of your shoulder may cause the spurs to rub against tendons or muscles and cause trouble.
  • Any place where a joint does a lot of rubbing and has a lot of stress it is more subject to bone spur growth. When protective cartilage disappears in a joint from over-use, a bony growth can appear in response to the irritation. Some would say it is the bodies attempt at creating support or stability in the joint.

Key points to remember

Where there is more stress on the skeleton of the body, there is more liklihood of spurs. The body is constantly breaking bone down and building up bone. This is called remodeling. Due to remodeling, the bone spurs can be reabsorbed partially or wholly.

Bone degeneration is a different thing. Bone degeneration is not going to regrow, although there are always miraculous events in life and we do need to make room for them. So, let's not discount it from happening.

Prevention And Healing

Feed The Cartilage

It is the cartilage that is first wearing away from the stress and inflammation in the disease process we call osteoarthritis. This is an area where you see spurs forming. If you have adequate cartilage you are less likely to form spurs. So, it is important to understand how to feed your cartilage.  Cartilage has no blood supply making it an area that is usually slow to repair. However, we can give cartilage a helping hand.

Bones get nutrients from the bloodstream, but cartilage is fed by the synovial fluid that surrounds your joints. Synovial fluid contains the proteins, and sugars necessary for cartilage nutrition, and also removes waste products excreted by cartilage. The nutrients, and waste products move back, and forth across cell membranes, and are supported by physical activity, which includes joint movement. Therefore moving the joint helps to remove wastes and supply nourishment to the cartilage. So keeping on the move is important.

To support healthy cartilage, bone broth is used to provide building blocks to form healthy collagen in general. It is also good to include anti-inflammatory foods, and herbs in your diet to help decrease the inflammatory burden in the body and decrease inflammation in the joint. Most anti-inflammatory foods and herbs will be beneficial, although I have listed some that are known to help with joint inflammation below.

 

What You Cartilage Needs To Be Healthy

  • Movement of the joints
  • Drink clean water - cartilage needs to be hydrated
  • Omega 3 fatty acids such as found in cold water fish - they reduce inflammatory, and degradation markers in chondrocytes and synoviocytes.
  • Protein
  • Bone broth specifically  - The gelatin in broth contains chondroitin sulfate a main building block of bone matrix, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue in general.
  • Silica - high in horse tail and nettles
  • Sulfur - epsom salts or glucosamine sulfate, MSM
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Gelatin - Bone broth or supplement - organic
  • Foods To Consider
  • Eat nutrient dense diet
  • Organic food
  • Fresh food
  • Lots of green leafy vegetables such as kale and collards which are high in minerals
  • Sun for vitamin D or take fish oil
  • Vitamin K
  • Dietary herbs as discussed below
  • Lowering high homocysteine

To see a list of what the bones need to be healthy, go to this article. 

Other Methods To Prevent Bone Spurs

  • Stretching exercises
  • Low-impact maintenance exercise program  that strengthens the core and stretches those tendons most affected. Swimming, using an elliptical machine, or bicycling are exercises that will not add extra pressure to the joints and tendons.
  • Weight reduction if overweight
  • Use of cushioned supportive shoes
  • Bone spurs can be prevented by keeping calcium in your bones rather than running around depositing itself in other areas where it may cause atherosclerosis or bone spurs.

Healing Methods To Consider When You Have Spurs

  • Take stressor off the joint
  • Loosing weight if over weight
  • Raw Apple cider vinegar - 1 T in 8 oz water in AM at breakfast every day to help reabsorb bone spurs. Many people have used this method and claim it works.
  • Another method claimed by many people to work is using castor oil packs over the bone spur. Castor oil packs decrease inflammation and perhaps that is one way it is working.
  • Support the joint if it is under continued stress or pressure.
  • Anything that will increase circulation in the area
    •  Massage
    • Hydrotherapy or hot and cold
    • Cryoultrasound - combination of ultrasound and cryotherapy
    • Accupunture
    • Infrared sauna
    • Mild exercise specifically designed for the situation
    • Ulrasound with anti-inflammatory herbs
    • Physical therapy
    • Use of counter-irritant herbs may help - may just irritate depending on the case, work with qualified herbalist
    • Keep moving - stretching exercises, yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Qi are suggestions of low impact exercises to consider
    • Herbs that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory - see below

Keep Calcium In the Bones and not running around the body where it can settle out in odd places.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D–sufficient patients have a lower risk of developing osteoarthritis, and vitamin D sufficiency and supplementation decrease articular cartilage degeneration on x-rays.  In clinical trials, vitamin D deficiency poses a risk factor for osteoarthritis, and those with decreased cartilage thickness are more likely to be vitamin D–insufficient.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K increases osteocalcin which basically shuttles calcium into the bone matrix where it belongs and keeps it from depositing where it should not be. This support normal bone growth, decrases osteoporosis and fratures and leads us to believe it will also prevent bone spurs. Studies show that vitamin K appears to be important in preventing disabling osteoarthritis. Abnormal mineralization of cartilage and bone has been seen with insufficient vitamin K intake. Vitamin K2 is thought to be the preferable form. Although K1 from plants is turned into K2 by healthy colon bacteria, there may not be enough K2 absorbed in the colon to be beneficial.

 Lowering homocysteine

A link between Hcy and bone disease was first made in 1966, when McKusick hypothesized a disturbed collagen cross-linking in patients with homocystinuria. It is not actually known if the homocysteinuria is the causative factor or the fact that increase homocysteine is caused by low B vitamins and those same B vitamins are involved in making healthy bone. It could be the later. However, the treatment for both is the same.

High homocysteine is associated with certain low B vitamins and increasing foods with B vitamins such as dark green leafy greens or taking them as a supplement (active Bs, for instance have to use folate and not folic acid) will decrease the homocysteine level usually.

High homocysteine can usually be lowered with a mix of betaine (trimethylglycine, riboflavin 5' phosphate, 5-MTHF (folate), methylcobalamin(B12), and Pyridoxal 5' phosphate (b6). A persons practitioner would usually advise them of what would best work for them. You will usually see these mixes sold as Methylation Formulas. There is one called Methy Guard Plus by Thorne that I like, but there are many decent formulas on the market.

B12 is one of the vitamins used to lower homocysteine and vegetarians are often low in this vitamin to the point of being symptomatic.  Some people have trouble absorbing it, espeically the elderly (usually same folks that are low in stomach acid). A common symptom of B12 deficiency is megaloblastic anemia. Folate deficiency also causes megaloblastic anemia and both can be low in the person with high homocysteine. Usually both are given together for reasons we won't go into here.

The neurologic symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include: numbness and tingling of the hands and, more commonly, the feet; difficulty walking; memory loss; disorientation; and dementia with or without mood changes.

Causes Of Chronic inflammation

  • Chronic stress of any type
  • Lack of healthy diet to support the biotransformation/detox system which allows toxins to remain in body
  • Eating grains and legumes without proper fermentation/sprouting
  • Eating foods you are sensitive too: gluten, milk, soy are some biggies for many folks
  • Genetics that decreases the ability to remove toxins adequately
  • Other disease processes causing increase inflammatory cytokines
  • Adrenal Issues from insufficiency to blatant Addison's disease
  • Any inflammatory stressor such as pathogens, heavy metals, environmental toxins etc.
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sun/fresh air

 

What You Can Do
  • Identify any inflammatory causes and address them.
  • Use the suggestions above for dietary changes and lifestyle changes.
  • If you already have a bone spur, and there is inflammation involved, address it.  If there is stress on that part of the body figure out if you need to support it, and/or  increase resiliency and strength in the surrounding muscles, and connective tissue.
    • Example: Forward head posture can cause bone spurs on the front of the vertebrae. In this case practice chin tucks, strengthen the rhomboids, get shoulders back and chin in. Strengthen the chest and open the chest up. See your chiroprator or naturopath to help you with this.
  • Definitely support your connective tissue with bone broths.

 

Herbs To Support Healthy Joints And Decrease Inflammation
Ginger - Zingiber officinalis

GInger is used to decrease overall inflammation in the body and is used specifically for osteoarthritis and bone spurs. The amount used for bone spurs is generally high

Oral administration of Z. officinale extract has shown different and inconsistent effects, depending on the quantity of consumption. In patients with osteoarthritis, ginger decreases pain improvement identical to Diclofenac 100 mg but does not have the drug side effects such as upset stomach and negative stomach mucosa degeneration. Ginger extract has been compared to Ibuprofen and Indomethacin in osteoarthritis patients; the results have exerted improving function of Ibuprofen, Indomethacin, and ginger extract equally in pain score. Ginger powder has had ameliorative effect in musculoskeletal and rheumatism patients through inhibiting cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase pathway in synovial fluid.

Boswellia - Boswellia serrata

Boswellia serrata is often used in patients with osteoarthritis. It decrases frequency of joint swelling and pain as well as augmenting joint flexibility and enhancing walking distance have been observed at the end of treatment period. If inflammation and osteoarthritis are involved, this is an herb to consider.

Turmeric - Curcuma longa

Turmeric is a wonderful herb for inflammation in general, but I have specifically seen it work wonders for severe osteoarthritis. In research using Turmeric in people with osteoarthritis of the knees that included osteophytes, there was significant improvement compared to placebo.

Devil's claw - Harpogophytum procumbens

Devil’s claw is effective for treatment of hip and knee osteoarthritis.

Bromelain

Bromelailn is a proteolytic enzyme that is used as an antiinflammatory, and analgesic, by blocking metabolites that initiate the process.

 

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