Bone spurs are bony projections that develop along the edges of bones. Also called osteophytes, bone spurs often form where bones meet each other — in your joints. Bone spurs can also form on the bones of your spine.
The main cause of bone spurs is the wear-and-tear damage associated with osteoarthritis. Most bone spurs cause no symptoms and may go undetected for years. Bone spurs may not require treatment. Decisions about treatment depend on where spurs are 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. In some cases, though, bone spurs can cause pain and loss of motion in your joints.
Specific symptoms depend on where the bone spurs are located. Examples include:
When to see a doctor
Osteoarthritis of the hip
The hip joint shown on the left side of the image is normal, but the hip joint shown on the right side of the image shows deterioration of cartilage and the formation of bone spurs due to ...
Wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis) is the most common cause of bone spurs. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage cushioning the ends of your bones, your body attempts to repair the loss by creating bone spurs near the damaged area. The extra bone may help increase the amount of surface area for load bearing.
Bone spurs can break off from the larger bone, becoming what doctors call loose bodies. Often bone spurs that have become loose bodies will float in your joint or become embedded in the lining of the joint (synovium).
Loose bodies can drift into the areas in between the bones that make up your joint, getting in the way and causing intermittent locking — a sensation that something is preventing you from moving your joint. This joint locking can come and go as the loose bodies move into and out of the way of your joint.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your concerns to the attention of your family doctor. He or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of joint disorders (rheumatologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Below are some basic questions to ask a doctor who is examining you for joint problems. If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the physical exam, your doctor 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 X-rays or other types of imaging tests to get a look at your joints and bones.
Treatments and drugs
If your bone spurs are causing pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others). Bone spurs that limit your range of motion or press on nerves may require surgical removal.
Last Updated: 2012-03-07
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