What Are Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) are smooth, hard bumps of extra bone that form on the ends of bones. They often pop up in the joints -- the places where two bones meet.

Bone spurs can form on many parts of your body, including your:

  • Hands
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Spine
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Feet (heels)

Most bone spurs don't cause problems. But if they rub against other bones or press on nerves, you might experience pain and stiffness.

What Causes Bone Spurs?

Most often, they form after an injury to a joint or tendon. When your body thinks your bone is damaged, it tries to fix it by adding bone to the injured area. This creates bone spurs.

Often arthritis causes the damage that produces a bone spur. The cushioning between your joints and the bones of your spine can wear down with age. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout can also damage your joints.

Other causes of bone spurs include:

  • Injuries
  • Overuse – for example, if you run or dance a lot over a long period of time
  • Genes
  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Bone problems that you were born with
  • Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)

What Are the Symptoms?

You might not realize you have a bone spur until you get an X-ray to look for another condition. They only cause problems when they press on nerves, tendons, or other structures in your body. Then, you might feel any of the following:

  • Pain in the affected joint
  • Pain or stiffness when you try to bend or move the affected joint
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs if the bone spur presses on nerves in your spine
  • Muscle spasms, cramps, or weakness
  • Bumps under your skin
  • Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels, if the bone spur presses on certain nerves in your spine

Your symptoms might get worse when you exercise or try to move the affected joint.

A bone spur can break off and get stuck in the lining of the joint. This is called a "loose body." It can lock up the joint and make it hard to move.

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How Are Bone Spurs Diagnosed?

You’ll probably need to see a rheumatologist or orthopedic doctor. Rheumatologists specialize in joint problems. Orthopedic doctors focus on the musculoskeletal system. Your doctor will feel the joint to check for a bump. He may also order an X-ray to help him to see the bone spur better.

Other tests your doctor can use to diagnose bone spurs include:

  • CT scan. It's a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body.
  • MRI . This uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body.
  • Electroconductive tests. These tests measure how fast your nerves send electrical signals. They can show the damage bone spurs have caused to nerves in your spinal cord.

How Are They Treated?

To relieve pain and bring down swelling, you can try one of these over-the-counter pain relievers:

These can cause side effects, especially if you take them in large doses or for long periods of time. If you've taken them for more than a month, ask your doctor if you can try a different treatment.

Other therapies for bone spurs include:

  • Rest
  • Steroid shots to bring down swelling and reduce pain in the joints
  • Physical therapy to improve joint strength and increase movement

If these treatments don't work or the bone spur affects your movement, you might need surgery to remove the extra bone.

Can I Prevent Them?

Maybe not -- if they’re the result of the natural wear and tear of arthritis. But you can take these steps to avoid bone spurs caused by other things:

  • Wear shoes with a wide toe box, good arch support, and enough cushion to pad each step. Get your shoes fitted by a professional so they don't rub against your feet when you walk. Wear thick socks to prevent your shoes from rubbing.
  • Eat a well-rounded diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D to protect your bones.
  • Do regular weight-bearing exercises like walking or stair-climbing to keep your bones strong.
  • Try to keep the extra pounds off.

See your doctor if you have any signs of joint trouble, like pain, swelling, or stiffness. If you catch and treat arthritis early, you may be able to prevent the damage that leads to bone spurs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on December 14, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery: "Plantar Fasciitis and Bone Spurs."

Arthritis Foundation: "51 Ways to Be Good to Your Joints."

Cedars-Sinai: "Bone Spurs (Osteophytes.)"

Harvard Medical School: "Bone spurs."

Institute for Preventive Foot Health: "Prevention and Treatment of Heel Spurs and Bone Spurs."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Laminectomy."

Lehigh Valley Health Network: "Learn About Bone Spurs."

Mayo Clinic: "Bone spurs: Causes." "Bone Spurs: Definition," "Bone spurs: Symptoms," "Bone spurs: Tests and Diagnosis," "Bone spurs: Treatments and drugs."

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