Despite their painful-sounding name, most bone spurs actually don’t cause any symptoms or pain. In many cases, you might not even know you have any until an x-ray for an unrelated condition reveals them.
However, when a bone spur does begin to disrupt the surrounding tissue, it can cause significant pain and loss of mobility. If you’ve begun to experience joint stiffness or weakness in your limbs, bone spurs could be to blame.
Once they are diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options that can be used to alleviate the symptoms and improve your quality of life.
What are Bone Spurs and What Causes Them?
A bone spur, also known as an osteophyte, is a smooth, hard bump of extra bone that slowly forms on the ends of bones. Their formation is much more common after age 60, but younger adults can also experience them in some cases.
Bone spurs most commonly occur at joints, where two bones meet. They are most often caused by inflammation to that area. For example, due to osteoarthritis or tendonitis.
Chronic inflammation at the joint stimulates osteoblasts, the cells that form new bone tissue, to deposit bone tissue in that area, eventually leading to a bony projection, or bone spur.
In rare cases, they can occur due to congenital conditions that you’re born with. For example, an osteochondroma.
Common Locations for Bone Spurs
Bone spurs most commonly form around the joints, where two bones meet. This can happen anywhere in the body, but they are most common in your:
Generally, inflammation in the joint or surrounding connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) in these areas causes bone spurs to pop up.
Bone Spur Signs and Symptoms
Most bone spurs take many years to form, and — as mentioned above — you might not ever experience symptoms. However, if the spurs begin to rub against your bones or nerves, you could feel pain or stiffness in the area.
The exact symptoms you’ll experience depend on the location of the bone spur:
Your shoulder joint is able to move in many different directions due to its complex structure. This also invites formation of bone spurs, which could cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in your shoulder.
Bone spurs in the spine usually form between the vertebrae. This can cause stiffness and pain in the back. If the nerves encased by the spinal column are affected, spinal spurs can also cause radiating pain, weakness, or tingling into the limbs.
Bone spurs in the neck, or cervical spine, commonly form between vertebrae. This can result in aching or dull pain in the neck, which can worsen with activity. You could also experience headaches, reduced mobility, or radiating pain into your arm.
Spurs that form in the joints of the fingers are easier to see than in many other locations. You might notice that the joints in your fingers are knobby, and begin to experience stiffness, swelling, and pain at the affected joints.
Bone spurs in the feet form on the heel, and can cause severe symptoms, such as a sharp pain when you first stand up in the morning, and a dull ache in the heel through the rest of the day. You might also be able to see a small, bony protrusion under the heel.
Hip bone spurs can make it painful to move your hip, although you might actually experience the pain in the knee. Depending on their location on the joint, hip spurs can also reduce your hip’s range of motion.
The most common symptom of bone spurs in the knee is pain when you extend and bend your knee.
Risk Factors and Underlying Conditions That Cause Bone Spurs
A number of underlying conditions can cause spur formation:
Osteoarthritis is by far the most common cause of bone spurs in any location in the body. This is arthritis caused by long-term wear and tear on the joints. It’s most common in adults over the age of 60, but can occur earlier if a joint has been damaged by repetitive use.
Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus can also cause bone spurs. In these conditions, spurs still tend to become more common with age, but can pop up in younger adults.
Spurs can also form after a joint or tendon is injured, such as in a sports injury or auto accident. The natural healing process for these injuries can sometimes stimulate excess bone growth as the body attempts to heal.
Other risk factors for bone spurs include:
- Overuse — for example frequent running, dancing, or horseback riding over a long period of time
- Genetic predisposition
- Diet, especially if you have certain food allergies and continue to eat these foods
- Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)
- Degenerative disc disease
Bone Spur Treatment Options
The approach to treatment for bone spurs will depend on the severity of the spur, the severity of the symptoms, and the affected joint.
Conservative treatment options such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections can help alleviate the pain and loss of mobility associated with bone spurs, and also decrease the underlying inflammation.
In severe cases, spurs can be removed through surgical procedures. This treatment option is more invasive, so is most commonly for severe cases where other treatment options haven’t been effective.
If you are experiencing pain or stiffness that you think could be caused by a bone spur today, contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bhatti at Atlanta Spine. Our team will identify the root cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan to improve your quality of life.