What is a bone spur?
A bone spur (osteophyte) is a bony growth formed on normal bone. Most people think of something sharp when they think of a "spur," but a bone spur is just extra bone. It's usually smooth, but it can cause wear and tear or pain if it presses or rubs on other bones or soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, or nerves in the body. Common places for bone spurs include the spine, shoulders, hands, hips, knees, and feet.
What causes it?
A bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It typically forms in response to pressure, rubbing, or stress that continues over a long period of time.
For example, bone spurs may form in the feet in response to tight ligaments, to activities such as dancing and running that put stress on the feet, and to pressure from being overweight or from poorly fitting shoes. They may also form in the shoulder as a result of repetitive use. These bone spurs can then pinch the rotator cuff tendons. This can lead to rotator cuff disorder.
Bone spurs may also form as part of the aging process. As we age, the tissue that covers the ends of the bones within joints breaks down and eventually wears away (osteoarthritis). Over time, this leads to pain and swelling and, in some cases, bone spurs forming along the edges of the joint.
What are the symptoms?
Most people don't have any symptoms. But if the bone spurs are pressing on other bones or tissues or are causing a muscle or tendon to rub, they can break that tissue down over time, causing swelling, pain, and tearing. Bone spurs in the foot can also cause corns and calluses.
How is it diagnosed?
A bone spur is usually visible on an X-ray. If you're having problems related to bone spurs, such as arthritis, your doctor might order an X-ray. But most bone spurs don't cause problems.
How can you care for yourself at home?
Resting, using ice, and stretching the affected area may help relieve your symptoms. You can also ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine. If a bone spur is in your foot, try changing footwear or adding padding or a shoe insert such as a heel cup or orthotic.
How is a bone spur treated?
Bone spurs do not require treatment unless they are causing pain or damaging other tissues. When needed, treatment may include seeing a physical therapist for ultrasound or deep tissue massage. This may be helpful for plantar fasciitis or shoulder pain.
A podiatrist (foot doctor) may also be consulted if corns and calluses become a bigger problem. If the bone spur continues to cause symptoms, your doctor may suggest a corticosteroid injection at the painful area to reduce pain and inflammation of the soft tissues next to the bone spur.
Sometimes the bone spurs themselves are treated. Bone spurs can be surgically removed or treated as part of a surgery to repair or replace a joint when osteoarthritis has caused considerable damage and deformity. Examples might include repair of a bunion or heel spur in the foot or removal of small spurs underneath the point of the shoulder.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Gavin W.G. Chalmers DPM - Podiatry and Podiatric Surgery