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Bone Spur

Bone spurs or osteophytes are bony growths that form in the joints or the spine. They cause damage to bones, muscles, or tendons — often as a result of osteoarthritis. Some people may need surgery for bone spurs, but most people can cope with treatments that are easier to use.

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What Are Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are bony growths that form in your joints or in the spine. They cause damage to your bones, muscles, or tendons, often as a result of osteoarthritis. These smooth growths may not cause any symptoms or need treatment.

Bone spurs are common as you age. About 80% of men and 60% of women over the age of 50 have them. By age 70, 95% of both men and women have bone spurs.

People often learn they have a bone spur only after having an x-ray for some other health issue. This shows that many people with bone spurs don't have symptoms and may not need treatment.

What are the 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 let your shoulder move).
  • Fingers.
  • Heel or foot.

What causes bone spurs?

Degenerative diseases or health issues — 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. Your body then tries to repair the damage by creating a new bone in that area. The swelling stimulates cells that form bone, which in time grows into a bone spur.

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

Activities like 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.

What are the risk factors and complications of bone spurs?

The biggest risk factor for bone spurs is age. It's normal to get bone spurs as you get older. But some bone spurs will press on nerves and other parts of the body and cause pain.

Genetics may also play a role. If one of your parents had bone spurs that caused pain, you may be more likely to get them.

Bone spurs can make movement painful. If you don't treat them, the pain will likely only get worse.

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What Are the 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 other bones and tissues they rub against, causing symptoms like:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tenderness
  • Weakness

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How Do You Diagnose Bone Spurs?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do an exam to diagnose a bone spur.

Even if your doctor feels the bone spur during the exam, you may need imaging tests like X-rays to know for sure.

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How Do You Treat Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs that don't 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

To help ease pain from a bone spur, your doctor may tell you to do one or more of the following:

  • Take over-the-counter NSAIDs, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, to help with the pain.
  • Lose weight, which can ease the burden on your joints.
  • Rest and ice the area, which can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Go to physical therapy, which can help keep your joints from getting any worse.
  • Get steroid injections, which can bring down inflammation and swelling in the short term.
  • Get massages, which can help your blood circulate more (especially for bone spurs in feet).
  • Change to shoes that give you more support or add cushioning to your shoes.

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.

For bone spurs on the spine, surgeons can do a laminectomy. This technique removes bone spurs and makes space in the spinal canal. It can take away pressure on nearby nerves.

Surgeons can remove bone spurs in other joints, too. But this is usually a last resort if other treatments have failed. Some surgeries may be outpatient, while others may take longer to recover from.

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