Bone spurs

Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are outgrowths of bone that develop along the edges of bones, often where two or more bones meet. They can form in the back, hip, sole or heel of the foot, spine, neck, shoulder, or knee.

Most bone spurs are caused by tissue damage brought on by osteoarthritis. Many are silent, meaning they cause no symptoms and only detected by an x-ray or other test for another condition. Others cause problems and require treatment.

If a spur breaks off from the bone, it can linger in the joint or get stuck in the lining of the joint. Such wandering bone spurs are called loose bodies. A loose body can make it feel like you can't move a joint. This "locking" can come and go.

Symptoms of bone spurs

Symptoms vary depending on where the spur is located:

  • heel. Pain when standing, walking, jogging, or running. Some people describe the pain as feeling like pins sticking into the bottom of their feet.
  • knee. Pain when extending or bend the leg.
  • hip. Pain when moving the hip, and a reduction in the hip's range of motion.
  • spine. Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs caused by the bone spur pinching the spinal cord or its nerve roots.
  • shoulder. Limited movement of the shoulder; swelling or tears in the rotator cuff.
  • finger. Pain when moving the finger; the finger joint may look enlarged and knobby.

Diagnosing bone spurs

Your description of your symptoms and medical history are an important part of diagnosing bone spurs. Your doctor may feel the joint and the tissue around it. Some bone spurs can be felt, others cannot.

An x-ray or other imaging test of the affected bones and joints can show a bone spur and make a definitive diagnosis

Treating bone spurs

There are several ways to treat bones spurs. The treatment that's right for you depends on how severe your symptoms are. Most experts recommend starting with conservative treatment and moving on to more aggressive therapies if needed.

Resting the injured joint can help ease pain and inflammation.

For pain control, start with an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others). These medications also ease inflammation, which can also be helpful.

Physical therapy can improve flexibility and strength.

If the joint is swollen and painful, a corticosteroid injection into the joint may ease pain and reduce swelling. The effects of these injections wear off, and they may need to be repeated.

If these efforts don't work, surgery may be needed to remove the bone spur.