In the spur of the moment

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An old western tune speaks of “spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle” as the cowboy singer “goes riding merrily along.”

This pleasant description may hold true when a spur is made of metal and sits behind the heel of a cowboy boot.

However, when a spur is an extra growth of bone, protruding from the end of a bone in your shoulder, spine, finger, hip, knee, and/or heel, this type of spur is nothing to sing about.

Bone spurs (osteophytes) are pointed, bony projections that develop along the edges of bones, particularly in joints, where bones meet each other. Injury to nearby tissues or wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis) most commonly cause bone spurs. When injury or osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones, your body creates new bone to repair that damaged area.

The extra bone created for this repair increases the bone’s surface area, allowing for better load bearing. However, when this extra bone extends out from the smooth surface of the original bone, it creates a problematic bone spur.

Bone spurs most often go unnoticed because they cause no symptoms.

In this situation, no treatment is required. However, when bone spurs do cause pain, they can affect your health and lifestyle, depending on where they are located and which joints are affected.

If in your shoulder, bone spurs can rub on the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff, causing swelling and/or tears. This could limit your ability to raise your arm, lift objects, and steer your rig.

If in your spine, spurs on the vertebrae can narrow the space cradling your spinal cord.

This constriction can pinch the spinal cord or its roots, leading to numbness or weakness in your arms and/or legs, which could impact your ability to sit for long periods of time, and to tolerate the jostling of a bumpy road.

If in your fingers, spurs appear as hard bumps, making your finger joints large and knobby. Finger spurs can interfere with hand dexterity, which could affect your ability to hold the wheel for extended periods of time, and/or to have the strength and mobility to secure your load.

If in your hip, spurs can make it painful to lift your leg, causing pain that radiates down to the knee.

The spur’s position can even decrease the range of motion of the actual hip joint, which could reduce your agility and ability to get in and out of your rig.

If in your knee, spurs can make it painful to extend and/or bend your leg. The bony growths can affect how bones and tendons slide over each other, reducing the fluidity of movement, which could prevent you from effectively using your rig’s pedals and/or properly lifting with your knees.

If in your heel, spurs may make walking difficult due to painful weight-bearing.

If a spur sits at the bottom of the heel bone, the entire bottom of your foot may become enflamed (plantar fasciitis).

Bone spurs anywhere on your foot can lead to developing corns and calluses as your body builds up this extra tissue to provide padding and protection over the affected area.

In addition, bone spurs can break away from the larger bone, creating bone fragments that float around within the joint.

These fragments may eventually become embedded in the joint lining (synovium) and cause inflammation; or, they may become trapped between the ends of the joint bones, causing the joint to unpredictably lock intermittently.

With bone spurs, getting appropriate treatment early can help slow, or even prevent further joint damage. So, if you have pain and/or swelling in one or more joints, if you have trouble moving a joint, or if a joint occasionally locks – make an appointment with your doctor to see if you have a spur. Sometimes, a corticosteroid injection may greatly reduce the pain and inflammation of affected soft tissues.

However, when a spur is limiting your range of motion, damaging other tissues, and/or irritating nerves, your doctor may recommend that the spur be surgically removed.

Outside of surgery, you can take the following steps to reduce your painful symptoms: rest the affected joint; apply ice; use over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) or naproxen (Aleve, etc.) Lose weight to reduce the pressure your joint must support. Stretch the joint to maintain blood flow and flexibility. Go to physical therapy. Try ultrasound or deep tissue massage.

For relief with foot spurs, in particular: experiment with different footwear styles to find one with support and comfort; and/or, use padding or a shoe insert, such as a heel cup or orthotic to reduce pressure and pain, and to avoid corns and calluses.

In your bones, you know that travelling through the countryside is more comfortable without spurs – even if you are a country and western fan!

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