Exercise is good for us. Science and common sense back up this premise; moving our bodies sustains lasting benefits. It can increase our cardiovascular strength, help us maintain healthy cholesterol counts and reduce our risk of diabetes, memory loss and certain types of cancers. It can boost our immune systems, assist with weight control and decrease our stress levels, further protecting us from the effects of both anxiety and depression. But what science and common sense might not readily reveal is the toll that frequent physical activity can take on even the most well-toned body. In addition to its health benefits, regular exercise can also wreak havoc on joints and bones. Nearly all athletes will suffer some sort of joint or bone problem at some point in their lives. One of the most pressing (pun intended!) is the bone spur.
What is a Bone Spur?
Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) are bony growths that form on existing bone tissue. While they themselves do not hurt, they can press against surrounding bones, ligaments, tendons and/or nerves, causing swelling and/or pain to the people who suffer with them.
Why Do Athletes Frequently Get Bone Spurs?
Bone spurs form in response to an injury. And athletes are more prone to joint injuries simply because they are using their bodies more often than non-athletes and are exposed to trauma more regularly. Either some sort of repetitive motion wears down the cartilage between their bones over time (causing osteoarthritis) or they sustain trauma to the joint via a break or bruise. Whatever the cause, in an effort to repair the damage and strengthen and protect the weakened area, the body begins to build new bone over the injury. If the cycle continues often enough, the excess bone can grow so large that it presses against surrounding tissues and causes pain.
What Can Athletes Do to Combat the Problem?
As recommended for most problems, if you have an issue, you should first educate yourself. For instance, if you have a problem with your latest credit card statement, you would go to your bank, right? And if you need help with an immigration issue, you would go to an H-1B attorney. Thus, if you suspect you have a bone spur, you should start with a visit to your doctor. X-rays or, occasionally, MRIs, can reveal the severity of the injury and resulting growth, and a treatment plan can be devised. Sometimes surgery to remove the growth entirely is warranted, but most often an athlete’s pain can be managed through a variety of measures including modified exercise plans, weight loss, alternative footwear, over-the-counter pain medication, ice therapy, stretching and rest. A steroid injection can also provide relief in certain cases. Whatever the plan, a skilled professional can help guide you to the answers you need. Bone spurs might be inevitable, but they don’t have to herald the end of your active lifestyle.