Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)

"Bone spur" is a general term used to describe a knobby, abnormal bone growth. Bone spurs are also known as osteophytes. Scientists believe bone spurs occur because of osteoarthritis or when the body tries to heal itself after a trauma by replacing bone. The growth is usually small and often undetected.

Although bone spurs can form on any bone, they usually occur on joints where two bones come together, or where ligaments or tendons attach to bones. Areas that tend to develop bone spurs are the neck, shoulders, elbows, spine, hips, knees and heels. Spurs are not painful but they can cause pain, if they rub on a nerve or other tissue.

Older adults are more prone to developing bone spurs, but spurs can occur in young athletes or dancers because of the added stress on their muscles, ligaments and tendons. Pain may occur while the spur is forming but can subside. In some cases, pain may persist and interfere with physical activity.

These are reasons to see your health care provider about a bone spur:

  • You discover an abnormal growth
  • You experience pain associated with the growth.
  • You experience pain or weakness at a joint.
  • You have difficulty walking because of pain in the knees or heel.

Your doctor may prescribe rest, anti-inflammatory drugs or physical therapy if the spur is creating problems for you. These non-invasive treatments usually are effective in treating the bone spur.

In rare instances, surgery may be recommended if the spur is creating serious physical problems, such as prohibiting walking, and the spur is not responding to other forms of treatment.