​Bone Spur (Osteophyte)

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What Are Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs, or osteophytes, form in your joints and on your spinal bones (vertebrae). They most often result from damage caused by osteoarthritis.

Bone spurs are usually smooth. Over time, they can rub against bones, muscles, or tendons and cause damage.

They may cause no symptoms at first, or even many years. People often learn they have a bone spur after having an x-ray for some other health matter.

Treatment for bone spurs depends on where they are located and what symptoms they cause.

Types of bone spurs

Bone spurs can affect your:

  • Knee (making it hard to straighten your leg).
  • Spine (pressing against your spinal cord and causing weakness or loss of feeling in your arms and legs).
  • Hip (making it hard to move your hip).
  • Shoulder (causing damage to your rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that enable your shoulder to move).
  • Fingers.
  • Heel or foot.

What causes bone spurs?

Degenerative conditions — such as osteoarthritis or tendonitis — can cause bone spurs.

Damage to a joint from osteoarthritis is the most common cause.

Osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones.

In response, your body attempts to repair the damage by creating a new bone in the damaged area. The swelling stimulates cells that form bone, which eventually grows into a bone spur.

For example, when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, a bone spur can form on the back of the heel (calcaneus bone).

Activities, such as running or dancing, can also lead to the growth of bone spurs.

Bone spurs are more likely to form with age. Rarely, a health problem present at birth — called a congenital condition — will cause bone spurs.

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Bone Spur Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of bone spurs

Bone spurs may not cause any symptoms. If they do, it depends on where they occur in your body.

Bone spurs can break down the other bones and tissues they may be rubbing against, causing symptoms like:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness

Bone spur diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform an exam.

He or she may be able to feel the bone spur during the exam. Even so, your doctor will often order imaging tests — such as x-rays — to confirm a bone spur diagnosis.

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Bone Spur Treatment

Bone spurs that do not cause symptoms may not need treatment.

When bone spurs cause pain or damage other tissues, your doctor at UPMC Orthopaedic Care might use nonsurgical or surgical treatments.

Nonsurgical treatments for bone spurs

Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following:

  • Taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium
  • Losing weight
  • Stretching
  • Getting massages
  • Resting
  • Icing the area
  • Changing footwear or adding padding

Bone spur removal surgery

If your bone spur limits your range of motion or presses on nerves, surgery to remove it might be your best treatment option.

Make an appointment for bone spur care

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

Learn more about bone spur treatment

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