Did you know? Your bones may seem rigid, rock-solid, but they are as vital and dynamic as any other part of your body. They change weight, they change length, they change strength, and all this without your even noticing.
Things do go wrong. Sometimes, for various reasons, your bones get little spiky bumps on them. These are called bone spurs, or osteophytes.
What do these names mean?
This little glossary may help you to understand the functions of different parts of your bones.
The prefix osteo- comes from the Greek word that means bone. Whenever you hear osteo, you know you’re about to hear something about bones.
The suffix -blast implies that it is the precursor of something yet to come. Blast comes from the Greek word that means to germinate. That is, osteoblast refers to a type of cell that will eventually germinate, as it were, to become a mature bone cell, or osteocyte. Osteoblasts make new bone and help repair damage.
The suffix -cyte implies a mature cell. The bone that you feel, or see, is primarily osteocytes.
There is also the suffix -clast that comes from the Greek and means broken. The work of osteoclast cells is to remove, resorb, bone that is no longer needed or is deficient in some way. These are especially active in children and teenagers as bones grow and need continual remodeling, sculpting and shaping. They’re active also in repairing fractures.
Finally, the suffix -phyte comes from Greek, as well. It has two meanings: one having to do with plants, and the other, which is relevant here, means an abnormal or pathological growth. An osteophyte is, therefore, an abnormal growth on bone. An osteophyte is called a bone spur.
What bones do
From the top of your head to the tips of your toes, bones are an integral part of what happens to you.
For starters, and most obviously, bones are your main physical support, and they have a lot to do with your physical shape. They provide protection for your innards. For example, your skull is the main protection for your brain; your rib cage protects your heart, lungs and other organs; and the vertebrae in your spine protect the many nerves from your brain that innervate your body.
Bones work integrally with muscles, ligaments and joint structures to allow you to move without falling in a heap on the ground. These are the components of your skeletal system.
In addition to these visible effects, bones are the place where most of your red and white blood cells are made. They help also to store and regulate the amount of calcium and other minerals in your bloodstream.
What is bone?
Bone is made mostly of a protein called collagen that represents about 30 percent of all the proteins in your body. It is found also in your skin and most other connective tissue in your body, such as tendons. It is in your teeth, as well. When boiled, collagen becomes denatured, and we get gelatin.
Collagen provides a soft framework for bone that is hardened by the presence of some calcium compounds.
Bone is structured as concentric layers. The outside is made of fibrous compact bone called the periosteum, surrounding bone. It contains blood vessels, nerves and lymphatic vessels that nourish compact bone. It is to this layer that ligaments and muscle tendons attach.
Next is the endosteum, where bone growth, repair and remodeling happen. Not surprisingly then, this is where you find osteoblasts, osteoclasts and the osteocytes themselves.
The hollow area in the middle is where in some bones, you find a spongy material called marrow. It is here, in the marrow, that some 500 billion red blood cells are produced each day. This is in addition to the lymphocytes that support your body’s immune system.
What can go wrong?
There are several things that can go wrong with your skeletal system.
Fractures are fairly common and often result from a strong impact or stress on a bone. Smaller pressures may cause fracture if the bones have been weakened by some other condition.
Joints are especially likely to be affected by an inflammation called arthritis. This can be osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition.
There are shape abnormalities like scoliosis, in which the spine is displaced and forms an S-curve. In kyphosis, your back is hunched.
Osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia, is a progressive disorder that results from your bones weakening.
How about bone spurs?
There are two types of abnormal growth on your bones. The less common are called enthesophytes, which appear where ligaments or tendons attach to your bones. Mostly, however, you experience osteophytes, bone spurs, which generally appear in your joints.
Bone spurs grow because of some change in the configuration of your bones. It may be mechanical damage, surgery or infection. Most commonly, however, bone spurs are the result of arthritis in your joints, osteoarthritis, and arthritis is sometimes the result of imbalance in your body.
What happens is that the arthritis breaks down the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones, and your body tries to repair that damage by creating new bone in that area.
Treating bone spurs
There are really a limited number of options for treating bone spurs. First, if it’s not causing pain, then the best treatment is none at all. If it is painful, then the common approach is to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen.
If this approach fails, then surgery is a possibility. That is, cut out the bone spur. This is likely to be effective but also carries the risks associated with any kind of surgery such as infection.
A third option is to use my MYK medical massage techniques. The effect of these is to help your nervous system restore balance.
How to prevent bone spurs
To be a bit repetitive, the best prevention for bone spurs is remarkably similar to preventing other unpleasant condition: diet and exercise. The goal of both of these is to ensure that your bones are as strong as they can be both by ensuring they are used regularly, and by providing the right nutrients for them.
Briefly, bone health requires adequate amounts of a variety of vitamins, minerals and protein. Of all those, among the most essential are calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins D and K2. These four work together to ensure healthy bones.
Bob Keller maintains a holistic pain management practice in Newburyport. His book, “Making Sense of Medicine: Medical Matters Made Simple,” is available locally or online. He can be reached at 978-465-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.