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Bone spurs

Find out about bone spurs and how they are treated

Woman with bone spurs holds her lower back in pain

Bone spurs, which are known as osteophytes, are hard bumps that grow along the edges of bones or around the joints. While bone spurs may not always cause noticeable symptoms, they can cause a variety of problems when they press on nearby nerves or rub against other bones or tissues.

Bone spurs can form on any bone, however, the most common areas include:

  • neck
  • shoulder
  • knee
  • lower back
  • fingers or big toe
  • foot or heel

Osteophytes formation is often the result of a specific type of arthritis, known as osteoarthritis.

In everyday life, your joints are exposed to low-level damage as you use your bodies to move and function. This is completely normal and a healthy body easily repairs this low-level damage, so you do not experience any symptoms.

In osteoarthritis, the protective barrier of cartilage on the ends of the bones is broken down, which causes pain, swelling and inflammation. As the body tries to repair damage to the cartilage, it can produce bone spurs. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause for the formation of bone spurs.

There is, unfortunately, not a specific risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. As a result, it is not possible to determine the risk of developing bone spurs. However, there are certain things that are currently believed to increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, including:

  • Your age as we get older, the risk of developing osteoarthritis increases.
  • Family history of the disease.
  • Previous history of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Being overweight - obesity puts increased strain on your joints, and this increases the risk of developing joint-related problems.

The majority of bone spurs cause no noticeable signs or symptoms. It is possible that you may never know that you have a bone spur.

However, in some cases bone spurs can cause pain and loss of motion in a joint. An x-ray will reveal the growths. These will be called osteophytic lipping, which is the technical term for a bone spur in an x-ray report.

They can provoke a range of different symptoms, depending on where in parts of the body they are located. Common areas affected include:

  • Hip - osteophytes in the hip joint can cause a reduction in your range of movement. Hip bone spurs can also cause severe pain.
  • Knee - osteophytes in the knee joint can cause knee pain, especially when you bend or stretch your leg. Bone spurs in the knee can have an impact your range of movement.
  • Neck - if a bone spur in the neck presses on a nerve in your neck it may cause neck pain or weakness in your arm. You may also experience pins and needles in your arm due to pressure on the spinal nerves in the cervical spine. Osteophytes in the neck may also affect the movement of the rotator cuff in the shoulder.
  • Spine - bone spurs in the spine can cause pain and/or stiffness in your back. If they press on your nerve or spinal cord, you may experience weakness or numbness in your arms or legs. This may result in you forming a poor posture, which puts more pressure on your facet joints. You may see this called cervical osteophytes or disc osteophyte complex.
  • Foot - bone spurs in the foot can cause pain and discomfort while wearing footwear. Common areas in the foot for bone spurs are in the heel bone, ankle and toe. A heel spur in the bottom of the foot, called a calcaneal spurs, can aggravate the plantar fascia, which is the ligament that connects the heel to the toes. Common locations include a bone spur on top of the foot or a bone spur on the side of the foot. A bone spur in the ankle may cause pain when walking.
  • Hand - bone spurs in the hand can cause pain when writing or using a keyboard. Other areas include a bone spur in the wrist.

There are a wide range of symptoms associated with bone spurs. As many of them overlap with other conditions and illnesses, it can sometimes be challenging to determine the exact cause. This is where a consultation with an expert in bone problems can be extremely helpful.

The majority of bone spurs do not cause pain and will not need surgical treatment. However, if you are experiencing long-term chronic pain caused by the associated osteoarthritis then there are a variety of osteophytes treatment options available to you.

If you have a bone spur and feel that you need relief from the symptoms you’re experiencing, talk to one of our consultants. In your private consultation, you will be able to discuss your symptoms, explain how they are affecting your life, and ask them for their expert advice and opinion.

During your visit, your consultant will also be able to arrange for you to have any tests required, such as x-rays or other diagnostic scans. In most cases, these tests will be carried out on the same day. However, in some circumstances, and especially if the test requires specific preparation, we’ll need to arrange the test for another day.

If you are in pain, over-the-counter pain medication may be of help to reduce pain. Ibuprofen, for example, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), which can help to reduce swelling or inflammation linked to the arthritis. Night splints may also help to reduce overnight pain in the foot.

Physical therapy may also help improve the range of motion and to strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected area. This nonsurgical treatment may be particularly useful for bone spurs in the shoulder or bone spurs in the elbow.

Bone spurs are not normally removed through surgical procedure. However, there are some circumstances that may require surgery, such as when a nerve in your spine is being seriously affected or if your range of motion has been reduced.

During surgery, your consultant will make a small incision near the bone spur. The consultant will then use small tools to remove the piece of bone.

Surgery can also be used help to manage the related arthritis in a joint and this is something you will be able to discuss further when you see one of our highly-experienced orthopaedic consultants.

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