Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are bony projections that develop along the edges of bones. The bone spurs themselves aren’t painful, but they can rub against nearby nerves and bones and cause pain.
Bone spurs can form on any bone, and they often form where bones meet each other — in your joints. But, they can also be found where ligaments and tendons connect with bone. Bone spurs can also form on the bones of your spine.
Most bone spurs cause no symptoms and may go undetected for years. What treatment, if any, that you receive for your bone spurs depends on where they’re located and how they affect your health.
Most bone spurs cause no signs or symptoms. Often you don’t even realize you have bone spurs until an X-ray for another condition reveals the growths.
But some bone spurs can cause:
- Pain in your joints
- Loss of motion in your joints
Location determines other symptoms
Where your bone spurs are located determines where you’ll feel pain and whether you’ll experience any other signs or symptoms. For instance:
- In your knee, bone spurs may make it painful to extend and bend your leg. Bone spurs can get in the way of bones and tendons that keep your knee operating smoothly.
- On your spine, bone spurs can push against your nerves, or even your spinal cord, causing pain and numbness elsewhere in your body.
- On your neck, cervical bone spurs can protrude inward, occasionally making it difficult to swallow or painful to breathe. Bone spurs can also push against veins, restricting blood flow to your brain.
- In your shoulder, bone spurs can restrict the range of motion of your arm. Bone spurs can rub on your rotator cuff, a group of tendons that help control your shoulder movements. This can cause swelling (tendinitis) and tears in your rotator cuff.
- On your fingers, bone spurs may appear as hard lumps under your skin, making your fingers appear disfigured. Bone spurs on your fingers may cause intermittent pain.
Bone spurs usually occur as a result of a disease or condition — commonly with osteoarthritis. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage in your joint, your body attempts to repair the loss. Often this means creating new areas of bone along the edges of your existing bones.
Bone spurs are the hallmark of other diseases and conditions, including:
- Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH). This condition causes bony growths to form on the ligaments of your spine.
- Plantar fasciitis. A bone spur, sometimes called a heel spur, can form where the connective tissue (fascia) connects to your heel bone (calcaneus). The spur results from chronic irritation or inflammation of the connective tissue, but the spur itself doesn’t cause the pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
- Spondylosis. In this condition, osteoarthritis and bone spurs cause degeneration of the bones in your neck (cervical spondylosis) or your lower back (lumbar spondylosis).
- Spinal stenosis. Bone spurs can contribute to a narrowing of the bones that make up your spine (spinal stenosis), putting pressure on your spinal cord.
May be a normal part of aging
Bone spurs can also form on their own. They may be a normal part of aging. They’ve been found in older people who don’t have osteoarthritis or other diseases.
Your body may create bone spurs to add stability to aging joints. Bone spurs may help redistribute your weight to protect areas of cartilage that are beginning to break down. For some people, bone spurs may actually provide a benefit, instead of being a painful condition.
Tests and Diagnosis
If you experience joint pain, your doctor will conduct a physical exam to better understand the pain you’re feeling. He or she may feel around your joint to determine exactly where your pain is coming from. Sometimes your doctor can feel a bone spur, though sometimes bone spurs form in spots that can’t be easily felt.
To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may order imaging tests to get a look at your joints and bones. Some common ways of looking for bone spurs include:
- X-ray exams
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
Doctors who specialize in this condition: