Bone spurs 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, causing pain.
Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, can form on any bone. 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:
Location determines other symptoms
When to see a doctor
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:
May be a normal part of aging
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 just painful.
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
If you have swelling, pain or limited motion in a joint, make an appointment with your doctor. In some cases, however, you may be referred 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
What you can do in the meantime
Until your doctor sees you, avoid using your joint in ways that cause or worsen pain.
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:
Treatments and drugs
There's no specific treatment for bone spurs.
If your bone spurs don't cause you any pain or if they don't limit any range of motion in your joints, then you likely won't need treatment. If you need treatment, it's typically directed at the underlying problem to prevent further joint damage.
Surgery to remove bone spurs can be done in an open procedure, meaning the surgeon cuts open the skin around your joint to gain access to your joint. Or bone spur removal may be done arthroscopically, meaning the surgeon makes several small incisions to insert special surgical tools. During arthroscopic surgery, your surgeon uses a tiny camera to see inside your joint.
Last Updated: 2010-01-05
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