What Is a Bone Spur?

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

This lateral (from the side) xray of the foot demonstrates posterior and plantar calcaneal spurs.. Credit: Living Art Enterprises / Getty Inages

A bone spur, also known as an osteophyte, is a benign, bony outgrowth that develops along the edges of a bone. Although bone spurs can form on any bone in the body, they are typically found on joints: where two or more bones come together. It's also not uncommon for a bone spur to develop where muscles, tendons and ligaments attach to bones.

What Causes Bone Spurs

Bone spurs develop in parts of the body where bone rubs against bone.

Some doctors say this is a part of the normal aging process; that it's the body's way of compensating for worn down cartilage and bone loss, which occurs due to osteoarthritis. Essentially, the body tries to repair the worn down cartilage and bone loss by forming a new bone.

They are also tied to inflammatory conditions in which inflammation causes joint damage. Aside from arthritic conditions, there are other risk factors that can lead to bone spurs, including being overweight, having poor posture, having had a broken bone and wearing ill-fitting shoes.

Symptoms of Bone Spurs

Bone spurs do not always produce obvious symptoms. You could have one and not know it. When symptoms do occur, what you experience depends on the location of the bone spur. A bone spur can be painful. If the bone spur is located in a joint, there can be restricted range of motion in that joint.

Specific symptoms depend on where the bone spur is located.

For example:

  • Fingers. Bone spurs look like hard lumps under the skin and can make the joints in the fingers appear knobby.
  • Shoulder. Bone spurs can rub against the rotator cuff, which controls shoulder movement. This can lead to shoulder tendinitis and can even tear the rotator cuff.
  • Spine. Bone spurs on the spine can cause spinal stenosis, or the narrowing of the spinal canal, pain and loss of motion. When bone spurs pinch the spinal cord or nerves, it can cause numbness or weakness in the arms and legs.
  • Hip. Depending on where in the hip a bone spur is located, it can reduce the hip joint's range of motion, and moving the hip is painful.
  • Knee. Bone spurs affect the bones and tendons that allow the knee extend and bend with ease. Moving the knee is painful.

Bone Spur Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose a bone spur, a doctor will conduct a physical exam and feel around the affect joint. Some bone spurs can be felt. X-rays can show whether or not a bone spur is present and responsible for symptoms. If necessary, a doctor may use other imaging studies such as an MRI or CT scan to determine if there are complications to surrounding structures affected by the bone spur. Typically a physical exam and x-ray provide enough information to make an accurate diagnosis.

Bone spurs are treated conservatively at first. The pain and inflammation associated with a bone spur is typically treated with one or more of the following:

  • Over the counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
  • NSAIDs
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Orthotics
  • Stretching exercises

If the aforementioned treatment options are not effective, a cortisone injection is administered to relieve pain and inflammation. In severe cases, such as a bone spur that has greatly reduced your range of motion or is pressing on nerves, surgical removal may be necessary.

Sources:

Mayo Clinic Staff. Bone spurs. (2015, February 27). Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bone-spurs/basics/definition/con-20024478

Osteoarthritis. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases.
Published by the Arthritis Foundation. Thirteenth edition.

What Should You Do About Bone Spurs. John Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts. October 19, 2009.
http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/arthritis/JohnsHopkinsArthritisHealthAlert_3267-1.html

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