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:
- 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.
Causes of Bone Spurs
The most common cause of bone spurs is joint damage from osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. The cushioning between your joints and the bones of your spine can wear down with age. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout can also damage your joints.
Bone spurs also often 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.
Other causes of bone spurs include:
- Overuse – for example, if you run or dance a lot over a long period of time
- Bone problems that you were born with
- Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)
Symptoms of Bone Spurs
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, seen mainly in the hands and fingers
- Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels if the bone spur presses on certain nerves in your spine (a symptom that's seen very rarely)
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.
Bone Spur Diagnosis
Often, bone spurs are first evaluated by your regular doctor who will likely refer you to a specialist. 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. They may also order an X-ray to help them 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 canal.
Bone Spur Treatments and Home Care
To relieve pain and bring down swelling, you can try one of these over-the-counter pain relievers:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
These can cause side effects, especially if you take them in large doses or for a long 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:
- 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.
Bone Spur Prevention
Bone spurs usually can’t be prevented 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.