What is a bone spur?
A bone spur (osteophyte) is a bony growth formed on normal bone. It’s usually smooth but can create pain and inflammation when it rubs against nerves, ligaments, tendons or other bones. Bone spurs are fairly common in people over the age of 60 and are typically found in the spine, shoulders, hands, hips, knees and feet.
The main cause of bone spurs on the spine is the wear-and-tear degeneration. When this happens, the body may begin to produce new bone to try to stabilize the spine, forming a bone spur. Bone spurs are part of normal aging. They are only problematic when they compress the nerves.
What are the common symptoms?
Bone spurs can pinch the spinal cord or its nerve roots and may cause the following symptoms:
- Back and neck pain
- Pain radiating through an arm and/or leg
- Muscle cramps
How is a bone spur diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a bone spur begins with a physical examination at which your physician will determine where your pain is coming from. It is unlikely that your doctor will be able to feel a bone spur in your spine. Your full medical history will also be reviewed to determine what causes may be contributing to your pain.
Your physician may use a variety of diagnostic tools to confirm that a bone spur is present. These mostly include x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT scans.
How are bone spurs treated?
Bone spurs are treated only if they are causing symptoms. If your bone spurs are causing pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) or naproxen (Aleve). Injections can reduce inflammation long enough to relieve symptoms. Other treatment methods may include weight loss, stretching and physical therapy, rest and ice. Bone spurs can be surgically removed if they are compressing the nerves and causing symptoms.
Knowing what to expect can make a first visit for back pain just a little more comfortable.
Our overview of the components of the spine can help you understand some of the spine problems resulting from injury or aging.