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Bone Spur Causes, Symptoms, and Possible Treatments

Updated on April 2, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with a first class honors degree in biology. She writes about human biology and the scientific basis of disease.

A bone spur on the heel of a person suffering from plantar fasciitis
A bone spur on the heel of a person suffering from plantar fasciitis | Source

What Is a Bone Spur?

A bone spur is a bony projection or outgrowth extending from the edge of a normal bone. It's also known as an osteophyte. A spur forms when a bone is injured in some way, such as by being constantly subjected to pressure, being rubbed repeatedly by another object, or being subjected to some other form of continuous or repetitive stress. The spur may be harmless and may not cause any pain. Sometimes bone spurs press on other structures, such as nerves, ligaments, tendons, and other bones, however, resulting in pain, inflammation, and tissue damage.

Spurs often form at or near a joint, which is the site where one bone meets another. Some researchers believe that our bodies make bone spurs in order to increase the stability or strength of a damaged joint. Others think that the spurs are abnormal structures with no function. Bone spurs are most common on the shoulder, heel and spine, but they also occur on the hips, knees, hands, and elsewhere in the body.

A bone spur in a foot may make exercise such as hiking painful.
A bone spur in a foot may make exercise such as hiking painful. | Source

People may never realize that they have a bone spur until it appears in an X-ray for another problem. In other cases a spur may cause pain or numbness and may also interfere with the movement of a joint. Anyone with these symptoms should visit a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

An X-Ray of a Bone Spur in the Neck

This patient has a bone spur in the neck. If you count the projections at the back of the neck from the top, you should be able to see the spur on the front edge of vertebra number five.
This patient has a bone spur in the neck. If you count the projections at the back of the neck from the top, you should be able to see the spur on the front edge of vertebra number five. | Source

Muscles, Tendons, and Ligaments

It's helpful to known a little about muscles, tendons, and ligaments in order to understand bone spurs. They are all fibrous structures but have different functions.

  • A muscle contracts to move a bone.
  • A tendon attaches a muscle to a bone.
  • A ligament attaches one bone to another.

Anatomy of the shoulder joint
Anatomy of the shoulder joint | Source

Bone Spurs in the Shoulder

The shoulder is made of three bones—the scapula (shoulder blade) at the back and the clavicle (collar bone) and humerus (upper arm bone) in the front. The rotator cuff is a structure made of muscles and tendons which covers the upper arm and attaches it to the shoulder blade. The cuff enables us to move our arm.

The rotator cuff is located under a roof-like structure called the acromion, which is an extension of the scapula. There is a narrow space between the acromion and the rotator cuff which is called the subacromial space.

Bone spurs on the underside of the acromion may narrow the subacromial space. This can cause irritation and inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff, resulting in a condition called rotator cuff tendinitis or shoulder impingement. The spur may also cause a tear in the cuff. The result of all this damage is pain and difficulty in moving the arm and shoulder.

Shoulder Impingement

Relieving the Pain

Any unexplained pain or pain that doesn't disappear over time should be investigated by a doctor. That being said, a doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve the pain of shoulder spurs. Corticosteroid injections may also be administered to reduce inflammation and relieve the pain of an impinged shoulder.

Exercises can strengthen the muscles at the front and back of the shoulder, which may increase the volume of the subacromial space. These strength exercises must be done at the right stage of a treatment program and must be advised by a medical professional so that they don't make a shoulder problem worse. If bone spurs are inhibiting movement they may need to be removed surgically if non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful.

A Heel Spur

Bone Spur on the Heel and in the Foot

In the heel, a bone spur may be produced due to excess pressure created by a person being overweight or by excessive, high impact exercise such as running. Heel spurs often have a hook-like appearance, as shown in the picture at the start of this article and in the video above. They often cause no problems, but like any bone spur if they press on a sensitive structure they may cause pain.

When a bone spur forms on the sole of a foot, the area over the spur may thicken, forming a callus or a corn. One technique which may ease the discomfort in the foot is for the person to lose weight if he or she is overweight. Adding padding to a shoe so that the padding covers the area with the spur can also help, and so can wearing supportive footwear or shoe inserts. Other possible treatments are given below.

A Doctor Demonstrates a Plantar Fasciitis Stretching Exercise

Plantar Fasciitis

A heel spur is sometimes associated with a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a long ligament that runs along the sole of the foot and connects the heel to the toes. If this ligament becomes inflamed and tight, it may pull on the heel and cause a bone spur to form on the bottom of the heel. The pain of plantar fasciitis generally comes from the ligament damage and not from the heel spur.

The general treatments for a painful heel spur and for plantar fasciitis are often similar. Rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and foot and calf stretches may all be useful. The stretches should be prescribed or demonstrated by a doctor or other medical professional. Sometimes people with plantar fasciitis are advised to wear night splints to keep the plantar fascia stretched overnight.

A healthy backbone, or spine
A healthy backbone, or spine | Source

Bone Spurs on the Spine, Hip, and Knee

According to spine experts, many people over the age of sixty have bone spurs on their spine, or backbone. Aging increases the risk of bone spurs in general due to degenerative changes in the structures around and in joints.

Bone spurs on the spine appear as extensions on the front or side of the vertebrae and usually cause no problem. Spurs that press on a nerve can create a lot of pain, however. The pain may radiate to other areas of the body. The spur may also cause numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.

Bone spurs may occur on the hip and knee as well. Once again, they may cause no problems. Bone spurs on a hip may interfere with range of motion, however. They may also cause pain, which sometimes appears in the knees instead of the hip. A bone spur on the knee itself may cause pain when the knee is bent.

Medical tests are generally necessary in order to be certain that a bone spur is present and likely to be causing a problem. The spur is usually detected by some type of radiology (medical imaging) technique, including X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and ultrasound. These noninvasive examinations enable a doctor to see an image on the inside of the body.

A healthy knee joint without osteoarthritis
A healthy knee joint without osteoarthritis | Source

Osteoarthritis

Bone spurs in the fingers may give them a knobby or bumpy appearance. The spurs are a common symptom of osteoarthritis in joints. Normally, a layer of slippery cartilage covers the ends of the bones inside a joint capsule, allowing them to slide over each other freely. In osteoarthritis, this cartilage gradually disintegrates, causing the end of one bone to rub over another during movement. Spurs are often produced at the edges of the bones as a result of this stress.

Bone spurs in a knee joint with severe osteoarthritis
Bone spurs in a knee joint with severe osteoarthritis | Source

Heberden's and Bouchard's Nodes

Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes are bumps on the fingers that are associated with osteoarthritis and may also be associated with bone spurs. Heberden's nodes appear on the finger joint that is closest to the fingernail, while Bouchard's nodes are located on the middle joint of a finger. Osteophytes (bone spurs) do form in these areas, but there is a debate about whether Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes should be classified as osteophytes. Their formation and composition is still not understood completely. They may contain bone overgrowth, cartilage overgrowth, and/or gelatinous cysts.

Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes sometimes appear in the fingers of a person suffering from osteoarthritis and may be associated with bone spurs.
Heberden's and Bouchard's nodes sometimes appear in the fingers of a person suffering from osteoarthritis and may be associated with bone spurs. | Source

Some Possible Treatments for Bone Spurs

Bone spurs that aren't causing any symptoms may never be discovered and may not need to be treated even if they are eventually found. There are a number of options that can help relieve the pain of spurs that are causing problems.

A doctor may prescribe conservative treatments at first. These can be very helpful and may be all that is needed to relieve pain. The treatments include the application of ice, the use of anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers, stretching and/or strengthening exercises (as advised by a medical professional), physical therapy, massage, ultrasound, and covering the area containing a spur with a cushioning pad (where applicable). Surgical techniques may be used to remove bone spurs if non-surgical methods are unsuccessful in eliminating pain and movement problems.

References

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      This si very informative. We have to take precautions so that we can avoid bone spur.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, unknown spy. It would be good to avoid bone spurs whenever possible!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      Very clear explanations, AliciaC.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, theraggededge.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      I have heel spurs under one foot because of a knee problem on the other leg! (Due to the stress of bearing my weight). So I have a lot of pain. I have cortisone injections when I can't walk anymore and love being pain free. Nothing else works really. Ice packs are OK for a while but not walking isn't good.

      Informative Hub. They are wicked painful things to have!

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Really interesting - I have one of those Heberden's nodes on my finger since I trapped it in something several years ago - but I never knew what it was called until I read this. Pinned.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, GoodLady. Those heel spurs sound very unpleasant! I'm so glad that I don't have any bone spurs - or if I have, they're not bothering me! Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experience.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment and the pin, Nettlemere! I was discussing this hub with my sister shortly before I published it, and when she showed me one of her hands I saw that that she has Heberden's nodes too. She's had osteoarthritis in her fingers for a long time, but it's interesting to hear that the nodes can develop due to other causes.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I should imagine having more than one of them would be quite a hindrance for her and uncomfortable sometimes.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Nettlemere. Thanks for the new comment. Yes, my sister's fingers are frequently painful, although I don't know how much is due to the arthritis and how much is due specifically to the nodes. She developed the osteoarthritis at a relatively young age, like our mother. Osteoarthritis runs in our family.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, great hub with all great and helpful and useful information about bone spurs . I didn't know much about bone spurs but thanks to your hub you have helped me learn more about them . I have a friend who has bone spurs in the heel of one foot which is very painful, i will share your hub with him.

      Vote up and more !!!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the hub with your friend, Tom. Bone spurs can cause horrible problems in some people! Thanks for the comment and the vote, too.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I have 2 tiny spurs of Ostseo arthritis on 2 fingers that sit on top of my R/A deformed first joints. Such as life gives us.

      Voted up useful and interesting, Joyce.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What an unpleasant combination, Joyce! You're right, though - sometimes we have to make the best of what life gives us. Good luck for the future - I hope that you continue to find treatments that help your arthritis. Thanks for the votes.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

      Very interesting information about bone spurs, Alicia. Thank you. Sorry to hear that osteoarthritis runs in your family. Speak to it firmly and tell it to run somewhere else. Would that you could.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, drbj. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could order diseases to disappear and they obeyed us! Thank you for the comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I had a good deal of pain when years ago from a bone spur. My doctor advised me to wear shoes with a slight heel to relieve the pressure and it did work. I also lost lots of weight that made most of the difference. Wearing cushioned or comfortable shoes helps lots! Great hub and voted way up.

    • jennyjenny profile image

      jennyjenny 4 years ago from Somewhere in Michigan

      Very informative! Thanks for Sharing! :)

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, teaches. Thanks for the comment and the vote, and thanks for describing your experience with a bone spur. I'm so lucky that I haven't experienced pain from one myself!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, jennyjenny. I appreciate your visit and comment!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      So very useful indeed ;,my daughter has to go and see a doctor about a bone which is growing in her hand.Thank you again for sharing.

      Take care and enjoy your day,

      Eddy.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Eddy. It's great to hear from you again! I hope your daughter's hand problem is solved - and I hope that you have a great day, too! Thanks for the comment.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Alicia, great job on this article. Bone spurs are very painful. I have one in my ankles and I have had constant trouble. I never knew you could get them in so many places. Worries me to be honest. Awesome job on a class "A" article Alicia. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sorry that you have such a painful ankle, thelyricwriter. I hope it gets better very soon. Thank you so much for the comment - I appreciate it very much!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 4 years ago

      A truly fascinating hub. Great title. 'What is a bone spur'.

      Well answered and executed.

      I have learned so much useful information from this. Thanks for sharing.

      I think hubs like this are so interesting as you have put into everyday terms some quite complex ideas.

      No an easy task. Well done.

      Voted up 4/5 buttons and sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the kind comment, molometer. I appreciate your visit, the votes and the share very much!!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very informative hub, Alicia. You always do a great job with your medical related hubs. Up votes and sharing!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, the vote, and the share, Peggy. I appreciate them all!

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 4 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi Alicia. This helps out so much. I have one bone spur (that I am aware of) on my right tow .... no doubt from wearing shoes, for years, which looked great but were not so great for my feet. If I wear similar shoes now, the spur becomes painful but, if I'm careful w/my selection of shoes, it has no pain. your hub has helped me to understand this condition. Useful Interesting Up

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment and all the votes, Lucky Cats. I'm glad that you've found a way to avoid pain from your bone spur!

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great hub - very informative. My husband has a bone spur in his shoulder and is having surgery this week, so your hub instantly caught my attention.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment, Rosie writes. I hope the surgery relieves your husband's pain. A bone spur in the shoulder is very unpleasant!

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 4 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hi Alicia, Super informative. I watched the video in amazement at the actual footage of real live surgery. He explained things even I could understand, lol. I hope all is well with you. It certainly sounds likeyou're doing great judging by your continued activity here at the hub! Cheers, Kathi :O)

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Kathi! Thank you very much for the comment. I hope that you're doing well too and that you are going to write more hubs. I love reading them and seeing your lovely photography!

    • profile image

      Elaine Calvert 16 months ago

      I have bone spurs wherever I've had a broken bone (all fingers on left hand ( sister shut my hand in car door ) where I broke 2 ribs, where I broke the same bone in my foot 3 times........

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sorry that you have so many bone spurs, Elaine. Breaking the same bone three times is very unfortunate, too! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope things get better for you with respect to bone problems.

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