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Bone Spurs

A bony growth formed on a normal bone is termed osteophyte or bone spur. It is an extra bone. Although bone spur can be smooth, it can cause wear and tear with pain in the area when a bone rubs with other bones or soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons or nerves in the body. The most common places in the body where bone spurs occur include the spine, shoulders, hands, hips, knees and heel.


Causes of bone spurs

The body tries to repair itself by building extra bones. These are formed in response to pressure, rubbing and stress that exist over a period of time. Bone spurs can also be formed due to the aging process. Cartilage breaks down and wears away with age. This leads to pain and swelling in some cases when bone spurs are formed along the edges of the joint. When ligaments get tight, bone spurs could be formed. Activities such as dancing and running that lay stress on the feet, excess weight or poorly fitting shoes could lead to formation of bone spurs.

During such times that long ligament gets inflamed and the bone tries to mend itself, a bone spur can form on the bottom of the heel. Pressure behind the heel from frequently wearing shoes that are too tight can cause bone spur at the back of the heel. This is also popularly called 'pump bump' as women who wear high heels suffer from this.

When tendons move through a narrow space between the top of shoulder and upper arm, they rub on the bones. Bone spurs can form in this narrow area. This can pinch the rotator cuff tendons resulting in irritation, inflammation, stiffness, weakness and pain. This condition is called rotator cuff disorder. It occurs with age and due to repetitive tearing of the tendons, especially among athletes, baseball players and in painters who frequently have to work with arms above their heads. Traumatic injury and poor posture can also be potential bone spur causes and can lead to spine bone spurs.

Bone spur symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bone spurs depend upon their location. A bone spur in the knee is painful to the extent that it can bend your legs and prevent the knee from operating smoothly. A bone spur on the vertebra can narrow the space that contains spinal cord and can cause weakness or numbness in the arms and legs. A bone spur in the hip can make movement painful and reduce the range of the hip joint. Bone spurs in the shoulder can hinder rotator cuff movement. Bone spur in fingers appear as hard lumps under the skin and they can make the joints in the fingers look knobbly. When bone spurs begin to press on other bones or tissues thereby causing a muscle or tendon to rub, they can break that tissue can cause swelling, pain, and tearing. Bone spurs in the foot can cause corns and calluses when tissue builds up to provide an added pad over the bone spur.

Bone spur diagnosis

A bone spur is visible through an x-ray. But it is rare to take x ray just to see whether a person has bone spur or not. For instance if an X ray is taken to evaluate, say, an arthritis problem, bone spurs should be visible. During physical exam the doctor can feel around the joints to determine exactly where the pain comes from.

Treatment of bone spurs

As such bone spurs do not require any treatment unless they cause pain and damage to other tissues. Treatment should be directed at the causes, symptoms rather than the bone spurs themselves. Such treatment aimed at the cause of bone spurs include weight loss to take the pressure off the joints and for stretching the affected area when bone spurs occur in the heel cord or at the bottom of the your feet. In the case of plantar fasciitis and shoulder pain, it is better to get an ultrasound done or deep tissue massage on the advice of a physical therapist. Treatment could include rest, ice, stretching and non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Learn to protect your joints in case you are suffering osteoarthritis. In case of bone spur on the foot, changing footwear or adding padding or a shoe insert may help. A podiatrist may be consulted if the corns and calluses become bigger problems. A doctor could suggest a corticosteroid injection at the painful area to reduce pain and inflammation if the spur continues to cause symptoms. Bone spurs can be surgically removed or treated as part of surgery to repair or replace a joint when osteoarthritis has caused considerable deformity or if the range of motion becomes limited.

Bone Marrow Aspiration

Bone marrow refers to the spongy tissue that is found inside the larger bones such as spine, breast bone, hips, ribs, legs and skull. Marrow has two parts – both solid and liquid. If the solid portion of the bone is sampled, it is called biopsy. Aspiration procedure is used to collect the liquid part of the marrow.


Both the procedures show whether the bone marrow is healthy and making normal amounts of blood cells. This procedure is normally used by doctors to diagnose and monitor blood and marrow diseases, including cancer. In bone marrow aspiration, the doctor uses a needle to draw a sample of the fluid portion. For a biopsy, a larger needle is used to take the sample of the solid part.

Most often bone marrow aspiration and bone biopsy is done at once. Together, they make the bone marrow examination. Although they are different procedures, they offer complementary information about bone marrow cells.


Why is it done?

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy offer detailed information about the condition of the bone marrow and blood cells. In case the blood tests indicate that cell counts are abnormal, and information is not sufficient about a suspected problem, this is done. The doctor may perform bone marrow exam to diagnose a disease condition involving the bone marrow or blood cells:


  • To determine a disease progression
  • To check the iron levels and metabolism and
  • To monitor treatment of a disease.

Pre bone marrow aspiration procedure

It is imperative to inform the doctor about any medications and supplements the patient is consuming. This can increase the risk of bleeding after a bone marrow aspiration. In case of anxiety or worry, better talk to the health care provider so that a sedative medication could be given before the aspiration in addition to a numbing agent through local anesthesia at the site where the needle is inserted.

Bone marrow aspiration is done in a hospital, a clinic or in a doctor's room. A specialist in blood disorders – a hematologist – or an oncologist, who is a specialist in cancer does the procedure with a nurse and a trained technologist. It usually takes about half an hour for the exam and if any intravenous sedation is given, extra time is taken for pre and post procedure care.

The patient's blood pressure and heart rate are checked. Some form of anesthesia is administered before the bone marrow aspiration as it can be painful. For many, local anesthesia is sufficient. You will be fully awake during the aspiration, but the site is numbed to reduce pain. If you are quite anxious, intravenous IV sedation is given before the marrow procedure.


Bone marrow aspiration procedure

The area for inserting the biopsy needle is marked and cleaned. The bone marrow fluid (aspirate) is usually collected from the top ridge of the back of the hipbone, and if it is done from the breast bone or the front of the hip near the groin. In young children and kids, the sample is taken from the lower leg bone, just below the knee. The patient will be made to lie down on the abdomen or side.

The bone marrow aspiration is usually done before the biopsy. A small incision is made to insert the needle easier. A hollow needle is inserted through the bone and into the bone marrow. Several samples are taken and aspiration takes only a few minutes. While the health care team ensures that sufficient quantity of sample is drawn, sometimes a 'dry tap' may occur, that is fluid cannot be withdrawn. The needle is moved for another attempt.


Post aspiration procedure

After the bone marrow exam, pressure is applied to the where the needle was inserted to stop the bleeding. A smaller bandage is placed on the site. If local anesthesia had been administered the patient is asked to lie back for 10-15 minutes and apply pressure on the biopsy site. In case, IV sedation had been given, you are taken into a recovery area as sedatives may cause impaired judgment, memory lapses or slowed response.

Tenderness may be felt for a week or more after the bone marrow exam, and the doctor administers pain reliever. You need to keep the bandage dry for 24 hours and not shower or bathe, or swim or use the hot tub. It is okay to get the aspiration site wet after 24 hours. In case bleeding soaks through the bandage, or does not stop even with direct pressure, consult the doctor. The doctor also needs to be contacted if there is persistent fever, worsening pain, swelling at the procedure site and increasing redness or drainage at the procedure site. Also it is advised to avoid rigorous activity for a couple of days to minimize bleeding and discomfort.


Results from bone marrow aspiration

The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results are available in a few days. The pathologist or hematologist evaluates the samples to check the health of the marrow and if it has enough healthy blood cells and also for abnormal cells. The doctor confirms or rules out a diagnosis and how advanced the disease is or if the treatment is working. Sometimes, follow-up tests are done.


Risks of bone marrow examination

This is a safe procedure and complications are rare. But some complications include:

Excessive bleeding which can happen in people with low platelet count.
Infection in those with weakened immune systems.
Discomfort that could be long lasting in the biopsy site.
Heart and lung problems can be caused due to penetration of the breastbone.
Sedation can cause allergic reaction, nausea and irregular heartbeats in some.


Uses of bone marrow exams

These are used for many conditions including:


  • Anemia
  • Bone marrow disorders which include myelodysplastic syndrome and myelofibrosis.
  • Blood cell conditions such as Leukopenia, leukocytosis, thrombocytopenia, thrombocytosis, pancytopenia and polycythemia – which produce too few or too many of certain types of blood.
  • Cancers of the bone marrow or of blood including leukemia, lymphomas and multiple myeloma.
  • Cancers that have spread to other areas including breast.
  • Hemochromatosis and
  • Infections.

While problems with bone marrow can create lasting and serious health problems, bone marrow exams, such as aspiration and biopsy are important to help determine the status and extent of problems in the cells to evaluate and determine further treatment and management.



Bone cancer

Bone tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within a bone. Bone tumors may be malignant or benign. Though the causes of bone tumors are unknown, some possible causes include hereditary or genetic defects, radiation and injury. In most cases, no specific cause is found. Osteochondromas is a most common non cancerous bone tumor which occurs in people between ages ten and twenty. While primary bone cancers start from bones, secondary or metastatic bone tumors start in another part of the body such as breast, kidney, lung, prostate and thyroid and spread. These forms of cancer usually affect older people.


Symptoms of bone cancer

Some common bone cancer symptoms include:

  • Bone fracture or fracture from slight injury or trauma.
  • The most common symptom of bone cancer is pain. Though mild initially, bone pain gradually becomes intense and tends to worsen at night.
  • A mass or lump may be felt on the bone or the tissues surrounding the bone. This is common with fibrosarcoma.
  • Bones become weakened by tumor and may lead to a fracture. This can occur with both benign and malignant tumors.
  • Mass swelling at the tumor site which may be occasionally found.
  • Pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities can be found if tumor is compressed and this can affect the blood flow to the extremities.
  • Fever, chills and night sweats can occur though these are less common signs.
  • Weight loss can occur in some cases.

Diagnosis of bone cancer

After taking into account the complete medical history and performing a physical examination, the following diagnostic tests would be done.


  • Alkaline phosphatase blood test.
  • CT scan can give a cross sectional picture of the bones and additional information on the size and location of the tumor.
  • MRI of the bone and surrounding tissues can provide cross sectional imaging of the body and better details of soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels.
  • X ray of the bone and surrounding tissues.
  • A bone scan is taken on the entire body and is not specific for any type of tumor.
  • Bone biopsy: When the tumor is identified, the doctor may then obtain a biopsy sample of the tumor. This involves taking a small sample of the tumor and examining it in the laboratory by a pathologist. This biopsy can be obtained through a small needle or through a small incision.

Treatment of bone cancer

There are many treatment options for bone cancer depending upon the type of bone cancer and the location of the cancer. It also depends on whether or not the cancer has spread from the bone to surrounding tissues. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These can be used individually or in combination with each other.

Although some benign bone tumors tend to go away on their own and hence do not require treatment, close monitoring is essential to see if the tumor shrinks or grows. In case of malignant tumors, surgery would become essential. The goal of surgery is to remove the entire tumor and its surrounding area or normal bone. A pathologist examines the tumor once removed to determine if there is normal bone completely surrounding the tumor. In case the cancer is left behind, chances are it can continue to grow and spread requiring further treatment.


Depending upon the size/amount of bone removed, the surgeon will replace either by bone cement or bone graft from another place in the body or from the bone bank. For larger areas, larger grafts from the bone bank or metal implants are done. Historically, amputation was the technique used to remove bone cancer. However, new techniques adopted have significantly decreased the need for amputation. Treatment for cancers that spread from other parts of the body would depend upon where the cancer started.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: September 18, 2019