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What Is a Bone Spur?

What You Need to Know If You Have a Bone Spur


Updated May 21, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bone Spur Explained

A bone spur, also referred to as an osteophyte, is a benign, bony outgrowth that can develop along the edges of a bone. A bone spur can form on any bone but typically they are found at joints (where two or more bones come together). It is not uncommon for a bone spur to develop where muscles, tendons, and ligaments attach to bone.

What Causes a Bone Spur?

Usually bone spurs develop where bone rubs on bone. Some say this is part of normal aging -- the body's way of compensating for worn away cartilage and bone loss, as occurs with osteoarthritis. Essentially, the body tries to form new bone to make up for what has been lost.

Bone spurs also have been tied to inflammatory conditions where inflammation causes joint damage. Besides arthritic conditions, other things can aggravate bone spurs such as being overweight, poor posture, past injuries, and ill-fitting shoes.

What Symptoms Are Associated With a Bone Spur?

Bone spurs do not always produce obvious symptoms. You may have one and not know it. When symptoms do occur, what you experience will depend on the location of the bone spur. A bone spur can be painful. If the bone spur is in a joint, there can be restricted range of motion in that joint.

If the bone spur is in the spine, it can cause pain and lost motion but also it may cause stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) and you could experience neurological symptoms from it pressing on a nerve. A bone spur that presses against tendons or ligaments can cause a tear -- for example, in the shoulder, a bone spur can provoke a rotator cuff tear.

How Is a Bone Spur Diagnosed?

A physical examination will tell your doctor if you have lost normal range of motion in the affected joint. An x-ray can actually show if there is a bone spur causing those symptoms.

If necessary, your doctor can order other imaging studies (CT scan or MRI) to determine if there are complications to surrounding structures affected by the bone spur.

How Is a Bone Spur Treated?

Conservatively at first. Pain and inflammation associated with a bone spur is typically treated with one or more of the following: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, rest, ice, orthotics, and stretching exercises. Depending on the location of the bone spur and if the aforementioned treatments have not produced satisfactory results, a cortisone injection can be considered to tame pain and inflammation. In severe cases, surgical removal of the bone spur may be an option.

Related Resources:

Osteoarthritis. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases.
Published by the Arthritis Foundation. Thirteeth edition.

What Should You Do About Bone Spurs. John Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts. October 19, 2009.

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