A pinched nerve happens when a nerve in the body become compressed by other anatomies like muscle, bone, tendons or ligaments. The spine is especially at risk for pinched nerves because there are many moving parts close to the densely packed nerves.
As we age, the natural breakdown of these parts can cause a condition like an arthritic bone spur to compress the spinal cord or exiting nerve roots. Common symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can debilitate those affected and interfere with everyday activities like grocery shopping or yard work.
Getting more information about how a bone spur causes nerve compression is an important part of finding a treatment that leads to meaningful pain relief.
Why the body produces bones spurs
Bone spurs are growths of bone that the body creates as a response to friction, in an attempt to provide stability for the joints. A common cause of these growths, which physicians call osteophytes, is osteoarthritis — a degenerative condition that occurs when the lining that allows smooth motion between joints starts to wear out.
The term arthritis literally means inflammation of the joints, and this is exactly what happens when bare joints rub against each other repeatedly during everyday activities. One of the body’s responses to this increased friction is growing extra bone to stabilize the area. Despite the name bone spur, the growth itself is usually smooth and isn’t necessarily painful. In the spine, a bone spur may become symptomatic if it makes contact with a nerve.
How to treat a pinched nerve from a bone spur
A pinched nerve from a bone spur is generally diagnosed when a patient goes to see their primary care doctor regarding neck pain, back pain or radiating symptoms like tingling, numbness and muscle weakness in the extremities.
Once spinal bone spurs are identified as the cause of your symptoms, your doctor can work with you on a plan to treat the pain or loss of mobility you’re experiencing. This usually begins with a course of conservative options like the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Hot and cold compression therapy
- Epidural steroid injections
Spine surgery to decompress a nerve will generally be considered when weeks or months of these methods do not bring needed pain relief. Many are hesitant about undergoing traditional open back procedures because of the disadvantages they may have heard about, like long recovery times and risk of symptoms returning or worsening. A safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine procedures with large muscle-tearing incisions is minimally invasive spine surgery.
This field of spine surgery uses state-of-the-art technology to allow surgeons to access the spine with small, muscle-sparing incisions that can shorten recovery time for patients. If you are considering surgery to treat a pinched nerve from a bone spur, make sure your doctor or specialist is aware of the full range of surgical options available.