There has been a lot of buzz over the last two weeks regarding bone spurs in two of the Mets' star pitchers, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard. This article will cover what bone spurs are and the implications it may have on a pitcher.
What are bone spurs?
Bone spurs are abnormal overgrowth of bone resulting from abnormal stress placed on that area. Given that there is a tremendous amount of stress placed on the elbow while pitching, it is fairly common for bone spurs to form on a pitcher's throwing elbow. Depending on the size of the bone spur, it may cause some irritation to the ligaments and muscles in the surrounding area causing discomfort and/or pain. Although surgery is required to remove the bone spur, symptoms are fairly manageable. Surgery is not required for this reason and only recommended if the pain or discomfort increases significantly. One must be careful, however, as bone spurs can possibly break off and become loose bodies floating around in the elbow. These loose bodies can be solely bones or carry cartilage with them.
How are bone spurs treated?
Bone spurs can be treated conservatively (no surgery) or surgically. Conservative treatment involves physical therapy and/or anti-inflammatory agents (either medication or injection) to diminish the inflammation caused by the bone spur irritation, increase the range of motion of the elbow, and strengthen the muscles in the surrounding area. There is nothing anyone can do to reduce the size of the spur naturally so symptom management is the only non-surgical option.
If surgery is required, surgeons will remove the spur arthroscopically. This means that surgeons will drill small holes into the elbow and use a tiny camera to guide them as they use their tools to shave down the extra bone growth. Let's hope that surgery is not required because it will likely take about three months to return to pitching, effectively ending a pitcher's season season. A stint on the disabled list without surgery is marginally better, as it can be about two-to-three months before a pitcher returns, meaning it would be in time for the end of the season or a possible postseason run, should the Mets make the playoffs.
A possibility of an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury can create a bone spur as the lack of stability in the elbow would cause the bones to rub onto each other, effectively creating a bone spur. As a result, the UCL must be evaluated to rule out the possibility of Tommy John surgery or a DL trip to conservatively treat a partially torn UCL.