What happens to bone fragments left in the body?
February 4, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

What would become of my spinous process if it broke off? The doctor told me it would eventually dissolve inside my body but I hear about people needing surgery to remove bone fragments so I wonder if it could still be there contributing to my pain 10 years later.

It just occurred to me the possibility that the ever-present knot in my back muscle next to where my spinous process broke off could be the bone that has been enveloped into my muscle.
So would a broken spinous process 'dissolve' or should it still be kicking around somewhere assuming it is not present where it should be as confirmed by x-rays.
posted by dino terror to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had a horse who chipped the wing of her atlas; not a spinous process, but part of a vertebra nonetheless. I can tell you about that.

She had two surgeries to remove the chips, but it was a very difficult area to X-ray and they were cautious about exploring that close to the spinal cord, so they took out as many chips as they could, but there were almost certainly some left.

A couple of months after the second surgery, her symptoms seemed to have completely cleared up. They told us that, as of the second surgery, the bone chips were already spongey. So anything else left inside would definitely dissolve on its own, they said.

A year after the second surgery, she started developing an abscess at the surgical site. The vet told us to let it develop until it popped of its own accord. The abscess got enormous; it started in her neck behind her ear, and the swollen area was eventually the size of her head, and reached from halfway down her neck to halfway up her head. Eventually it burst and the pus started coming out, which was horrible. It took several days. While trying to deal with and contain the pus fountain, we discovered a sort of plug, a hard pus-colored something about the size of my pinky finger. We worked it out through the hole. After that the pus finished draining and it was never a problem again.

We suspect the finger-sized pus-colored hard plug was what caused the abscess, and was perhaps a last bone chip, covered in some kind of protective? absorbed? deposit. We don't know why it got like that instead of dissolving the way the surgeons said it would.

Have you had any MRI's or anything?
posted by galadriel at 1:02 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

X-ray or MRI would know for sure.

Even if the bone is gone, you might have a knot because there's tons of overlapping muscles that go from transverse processes to spinous processes up to 3 vertebrae away- take away the bone structure and there's a lot of muscles having to work in a different fashion that what they're used to- that could cause a muscle knot as well.

Have you had any physical therapy or body work to see if the tension can be released normally?
posted by yeloson at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2011

My wife broke four of her transverse processes about seven years ago (rafting accident). Two were close enough to the vertabrae andso were expected (and did) mend while the other two were too distant to reattach. I am not sure that they did dissolve but she has had no issues with them, though her back was problematic for about four years. My understanding is that they do not remove the fragments because of the complexity of the muscles in which they are located. There was a much greater concern with the scarring to these muscles from surgury than there was with chips (which weren't going anywhere because they were fully embedded in the muscles).

However, the back is nothing to mess around with. You might want to go back in and see what has happended over the years.
posted by rtimmel at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2011

I had x-rays, MRI, CT scan - nothing ever turned up on these scans until I got the doctor to make a note for the radiologist to specifically look to see if I was missing any spinous processes, and then bingo.
I'm always working on exercises for my back but I just had a lightbulb go off that there may be a bone fragment absorbed in there and that would explain why I can never get the dang knot to fully go away. I guess there isn't much of a chance that surgery would be indicated its just one of those "The More You Know (TM)" things.
posted by dino terror at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2011

Aha, then you can take those existing scans to a new radiologist and say, "Hey, I have a knot here. What's it look like in the scans? Could it be related to the missing spinous process?" Maybe see if you can get a recommendation for a really experienced radiologist.
posted by galadriel at 2:19 PM on February 4, 2011

The word you want to search on is "spondylolysis".
posted by neuron at 1:17 PM on February 5, 2011

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