Bone Spurs

1 What are Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs, also called osteophytes are the projections of bone that form along the bone edges.

These most commonly occur on the spinal bones or around the joints.

The damage in the joint that is affected by osteoarthritis is the main cause for the development of bone spurs.

These extra bony lumps are usually smooth, but may cause pain if they rub against other bones or soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments, or nerves.

Bone spurs may grow out of any bone, but are more common in the neck, shoulders, fingers, big toe, foot, heel, and knee.

These often occur without any symptoms and remain unnoticed for years. Usually, no treatment is required.

The decisions regarding treatment are made based on the location of the spurs and the way these affect your health.

2 Symptoms

Most cases of bone spurs do not cause any signs or symptoms.

You may not even be aware of your bone spurs until an X-ray for another condition reveals the growths.

Rarely, bone spurs may lead to pain and restricted movements in your joints if they rub against other bones.

Specific symptoms vary and are based on where the bone spurs are located.

For instance:

  • Knee: Bone spurs in your knees may cause pain when you try to extend or bend your leg. The bony growths may intervene with the bones and tendons that keep your knee operating smoothly.
  • Spine: Bone spurs on your spinal vertebrae may cause narrowing of the space that holds your spinal cord. These bone spurs may squeeze or pinch the spinal cord or its nerve roots, leading to weakness or numbness in your arms or legs.
  • Hip: Bone spurs can cause pain while moving your hip, although pain may also be felt in your knee. Depending on their location, bone spurs decrease the range of motion in your hip joint.
  • Shoulder: Bone spurs can rub against your rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that help control the shoulder movements. This can lead to swelling (tendinitis) or a rotator cuff tear.
  • Fingers: Bone spurs in the fingers appear as hard lumps under your skin, and make the finger joints look knobby.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you feel pain or swelling in one or more of your joints or if there is difficulty in moving a joint.

Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or slow down further damage to the joints.

3 Causes

The most common cause for the formation of bone spurs is damage in the joints caused by osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis results in damage to the cartilage, which acts as a cushion between two bones and allows easy movement of the joint.

In response to this, your body starts recovering the loss by forming new bone around the damaged joint.

This new bone forms as a projection called a bone spur.

In the spine, bone spurs form as a result of ankylosing spondylitis.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of bone spurs is done by several tests.

You may initially consult your family doctor. After evaluation, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of joint disorders (rheumatologist).

  • Write down your symptoms and their duration
  • Write down your key medical information, including the other conditions you have, all regular medications and supplements you take and family history of bone or joint disease.
  • Note down any recent injuries that have occurred in a joint.

Listing your questions in advance may help you make the most of your time with your doctor.

Below are some basic questions you may ask your doctor.

  • What may be the cause of my signs and symptoms?
  • Are there any other possible causes?
  • What diagnostic tests do I need?
  • What treatment approach will you advise?
  • I have other health problems. How can I best manage them together?
  • To what extent will my symptoms improve with treatment?
  • With the recommended medications, are there any possible side effects?
  • Is surgery an option for my condition? Why or why not?
  • What self-care measures should I follow to help manage my symptoms?
  • How often should follow-up checks be scheduled to monitor my progress?

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions such as:

  • What symptoms did you experience?
  • When did you first note these symptoms?
  • Is your pain severe?
  • Do you have difficulty in moving the affected joint or joints?
  • Do your symptoms affect your ability to complete your daily tasks?
  • Have you tried any home treatments so far and what, if anything, has helped?
  • What is your typical exercise routine?

During the physical examination, your doctor may touch and feel the area around your joint to locate where exactly your pain originates from.

Your doctor may order an X-ray or other imaging tests to view your joints and bones, and confirm the presence of bone spurs.

5 Treatment

There are several treatment methods for bone spurs.

If there is pain associated with bone spurs, your doctor will recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others).

The surgical removal of bone spurs that limit your range of motion or impinge on your nerves will be advised.

Physical therapy exercises may be advised to strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joint and improve its range of motion.

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