Getting Rid of a Bone Spur with a Needle

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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Bone spurs come in two flavors, functional and non-functional. Despite this, many patients consider a “bone spur” a bad thing. Patients often believe that bone is like inanimate cement. However, it’s really more like living hard plastic. It responds to new forces placed on it. Bone spurs occur when the joint is unstable or a part of the joint needs “shoring up”. Two interesting examples are in the knee. When a patella (knee cap) is pulled too much to one side, the joint responds by adding new bone (essentially extending the joint out further in the that direction). We call this new area a “bone spur” but it’s really just a new part of the joint that’s been created through local stem cells. Another example is when the post-surgical meniscus starts spitting outside the joint and bone spurs are created out in that direction to take advantage of the new position of the meniscus. In both of these examples, these bone spurs are functional, because they allow the joint to work better.

Non-functional bone spurs can begin life as functional spurs, but at some point too much bone is laid down and this dramatically reduces the range of motion of a joint. Literally the new bone gets in the way of normal joint motion. These can be removed surgically, but did you know they can be removed through a needle? This new technique is called barbotage. The area is numbed and then a needle is placed under ultrasound guidance to break up the bone spur. The spur is then naturally reabsorbed by the body and the joint can now move freely. This is a great example of how stem cell therapy can be combined with advanced image guided needle techniques to help restore normal joint function. Here’s what a patient, about two months out from this treatment had to say:

Overall My ankle  feels much better. Range of motion – 20% better – Overall pain relief – 40% better.  Now I can stand for long periods of time (e.g. 2 hours) , whereas before I could only manage 30 mins max. I can also manage cycling (no pain) and some elliptical trainer (running machine work –approx 15 mins). I’m hoping for further improvements in the range of motion as the strength is (slowly) restored. Overall I’m very pleased with progress to date.

So, in this case, it appears that treatment of a non-functional bone spur can be performed without surgery and that this can improve range of motion and function. Since this was non-surgical, recovery time is also shorter.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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