What Are Bone Spurs?
A bone spur or more technically called Osteophyte is an abnormal, smooth bone outgrowth that is formed along the normal bone edges. Though bone spurs mostly develop around the joints, they are also found where the muscles, ligaments, or tendons attach to the bone. Hence, they can develop anywhere in your body – from head to toe – including hands, shoulders, elbows, neck, spine, hips, knees and feet.
Merely occurrence of bone spurs does not necessarily mean they are painful or harmful for the joint, in some cases a bone spur may just be a natural phenomenon of aging and degenerative changes. In most cases, bone spurs grow slowly over a period of time, show no symptoms and go unobserved for a very long duration until they become painful, restrict the movement of a joint, pressure the nerves or start intruding on other structures causing pain or swelling. Also, bone spurs heal through resorption and are permanent deposits. Hence, the choice of course of treatment is very crucial.
What Causes Bone Spurs?
Most commonly, bone spurs are caused because of the joint damage from Osteoarthritis (a degenerative disease) as it gradually breaks the precious cartilage shielding your bone-ends, and in return, the human body tries to restore the loss by producing new bone growth near the affected area. This usually is your body’s natural retort to constant pressure, rubbing, or stress over a long period of time. This new growth thickens the ligaments and becomes a store of excess calcium, resulting in what is called a bone spur. It is the bone’s method of protecting themselves against damage or abnormality around a joint. Though a bone spur is formed with the objective to protect the joint from any further impact or force, instead of over the years the spur affects joint mobility, compresses joint nerves and tissues, as well as causes immense pain and swelling in some cases.
On the other hand, inflammation (Tendinitis), increasing age, obesity, abuse of joints, improper nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle, posture, diabetes, lupus, gout, or a joint injury can also lead to the formation of a bone spur. Though rarely, one could also develop bone spur if it runs in his/her family and is in the genes. Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) – a type of arthritis – also causes bone spur in the spine by hardening ligaments and tendons that attach to the spine. The symptoms of DISH include stiffness, pain, loss of range of motion, hoarse voice or difficulty in swallowing. Other conditions and diseases that might lead to the formation of a bone spur include:
- Plantar Fasciitis – a bone spur in the heels
- Spondylosis – arthritis of the neck
- Spinal Stenosis – narrowing of the spine bones
- Cervical Radiculopathy – damage of nerve roots that exit the cervical spine
- Lumbar Radiculopathy – damage of nerve roots that exit the lower back
While some of the bone spur may not cause any symptoms, some might show moderate effects, while there may be many that will go unnoticed and not require any treatment. In case a bone spur shows symptoms, causes pain, restricts joint movement, or compresses the nerves leading to swelling – you should call for proper medical attention and follow an effective treatment course.
What Are the Symptoms?
As mentioned, a bone spur may not necessarily show symptoms of concern and hence, might go undetected for years unless reflected in an X-ray. Though, when bone spurs show symptoms, these symptoms vary by the location of the bone spur. Actually, it is not the bone spur that is painful but the surrounding tissue. When bone spurs rub alongside other bones or soft tissues, they might cause pain or affect joint movement. If a bone spur, rubs against tendons or ligaments, it will cause pain or tear in the joint.
A bone spur in the heel is the most common that would result in pain while walking or standing, inflammation and swelling. A shoulder bone spur causes a sharp, sudden pain while doing certain movements. The hardest one to find out are the spine bone spurs as a there may be many causes of back pain and hence, the symptoms do not stand cent percent true. That said, numbness, excessive pain, digestive issues, and weakness could signal towards a bone spur in the spinal column.
However, broadly a typical bone spur will show any or all of the following symptoms.
- Pain and loss of motion in a joint
- Pain or stiffness on movement of the joint
- Pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- Pain, weakness or balance problems
- Muscle spasm, cramps or weakness
- Abdominal and back pain
- Shrill pain in the limbs (bone spurs in the cervical spine)
- Thumping headache
- Pain in buttocks and thighs
- Tenderness and swelling
- Skin Bumps (especially in hands and fingers)
Apart from the above, in very rare cases, people might experience problems in controlling bladder and bowels as the bone spur might constrict some associated spine nerves.
Broadly, a bone spur may cause the following problems in these areas:
- Knees: Pain, stiffness and reduced joint movement
- Hip: Pain and reduced movement
- Spine: Pain, numbness, weakness, imbalance and problem in every movement – bending, sitting or standing
- Shoulder: A tear in the rotator cuff and inflammation of a tendon
- Hands: Hard and large bumps under the skin giving a knobby look
- Foot and Ankle: Pain in running, walking and swelling.
How Are Bone Spurs Diagnosed?
You should visit your regular doctor and ask for a recommendation for a specialist such as a Rheumatologist or Orthopedic. Both these specialists would physically analyze the affected joint to detect any bumps, pain, the severity of the damage, the extent of motion loss, muscle strength and assess any other symptoms. They may call for an X-ray (to check for the existence and location of the bone spur), CT scan (to examine nerve compression), MRI (to assess any tear in the tendon), or any other imaging test to evaluate the bone spur clearly and the existing extent of damage to joint and bones.
Some specialists may also conduct electroconductive tests to know the damage caused to the nerves in the spinal canal. In case you have major symptoms, a proper diagnosis of the problem will be very useful. Deeper the diagnosis better the treatment. Remember to discuss everything with your doctor including:
- Your symptoms
- Duration of symptoms
- Medical history and on-going medications
- Family medical history
- Recent injuries affecting the joint
- Workout routine
- An alternate course of treatment
- How to protect future generations
Based on your symptoms, your doctor will examine your joint; suggest the best method of diagnosis based on the demand of the situation such as the availability of technology, current signs, and symptoms, prolongation of symptoms, medical history, etc. Once, the diagnosis is confirmed the doctor will suggest an appropriate method of treatment for your condition.
How Are They Treated?
Treatment of a bone spur depends largely on the symptoms being experienced by the person. Typically, non-invasive treatment options are preferred. Bone spurs that do not cause pain, hamper the movement or intrude any other structure might not require any treatment at all. In case a bone spur, causes some mild pain – proper rest and anti-inflammatory medications will help to reduce pain and inflammation. Taking some time off and ensuring you rest the joint well, will speed the healing process and ease the pain. If you continue to aggravate the tissue, the problem might worsen.
Doctors might recommend some over-the-counter pain killers such as:
- Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol, etc.)
- Ibuprofen (such as Advil, Motrin, etc.)
- Naproxen sodium (such as Aleve, etc.)
However, overuse of these pain killers could cause side effects such as ulcers and bleeding. If your pain does not subside, contact your doctor again and check with him. In some acute cases, doctors might also recommend physical therapy – such as ice packs, stretching exercises, massage, etc. – to relieve pain, strengthen muscles, as well as restore joint motion. Though this will not remove the bone spur but will help reduce symptoms.
In more severe cases of bone spur pain, cortisone injection is given to relieve pain and stress on the joint. Cortisone is a popular steroid that blocks the inflammation-causing substances in the body. In the case of a bone spur concerning the hip or spine, a Cortisone injection is given via an X-ray to detect the right placement. When a bone spur affects the foot, specialists may propose special shoe pads and inserts known as orthotics to release the pressure.
A new method called the cryoultrasound which is essentially a mixture of ultrasound and cryotherapy is increasingly gaining popularity as it has shown some effective treatment for chronic heel spurs called plantar fasciitis.
Doctors may also recommend surgery to remove the bone spur in cases where the joint does not respond to any of the treatments above and continues to affect joint motion. The surgery may be simple as to only involve removal of the bone spur to restore normal joint movement and release pressure from muscles, ligaments or nerves. Some of the bone spurs may tend to reoccur unless the underlying problem is resolved. Hence, surgery should be the last resort.
If need be, choose Arthroscopic surgery that has a faster recovery time than open surgery, though even that recovery period will include several weeks before the treated joint gains strength and proper movement again. One could also experience post-surgery pain in some cases.
However, there is no specific way to prevent a bone spur caused due to arthritis, yet an active lifestyle, walking, physical exercises, healthy weight, etc. helps to relieve the load from the joints, especially in the knees. You could also be vigilant and follow some basic things (listed below here) to ensure you minimize the chances of a bone spur formation due to any other reason.
- Eat a healthy diet enriched with calcium and Vitamin D
- Include green vegetables in your food
- Take calcium and Vitamin D supplements
- Wear comfortable, soft padded shoes with a wide toe base
- Lose weight to maintain optimum BMI balance
- Maintain proper posture while sitting and standing to provide the strength to back muscles
What are the Home Remedies for Bone Spur:
Though in many cases, bone spurs will go unnoticed, sometimes they cause mild symptoms that can be easily treated at home. Some home remedies that you can follow to ease bone spur problems are:
- Epsom Salt: Grab some Epsom salt and sprinkle a handful in water and dip your feet in it. The magnesium sulphate in the salt will help relieve the pain in the heels. You can also use this water to gently massage your affected joints.
- Essential Oil Massage: Massage your joints softly with rosemary, lavender, coconut or olive oil to reduce stiffness, restore movement and release pain.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: It is the cure for literally all human body problems and bone spurs are not an exception. Drench a towel in a tub with warm water and apple cider vinegar; wrap the towel on the affected joint allowing the apple cider vinegar to pull out the excess calcium stores in the spurs.
- Ice Pack: An ice/cold pack provides instant relief to pain and swelling.
- Baking Soda: Use a half teaspoon of Baking Soda, mix it with water to form a thick paste. Apply this paste on the affected area to balance the pH levels.
- Flaxseed Oil: The alpha-linolenic acid present in these seeds helps to reduce inflammation caused by the bone spur. Take some warm water and empty some flaxseed oil in it and dip your feet, or dip a towel and use it to wrap around the affected joint. Top the towel with a heating pad to fasten the healing process. Do this for an hour at least and do not move too much.
- Anti–inflammatory Food: Ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, and cumin seeds have high anti-inflammatory properties and will really help in reducing the pain and inflammation caused by bone spurs. Boil cumin seeds and drink up the strained water. Mix a teaspoon of turmeric, ginger, and pepper and drink it with warm water to curb the pain.
- Soft Exercises: You can practice some soft exercises including stretching the calves or practicing some foot flexes. These exercises will lessen your pain, release pressure and also bring back muscle strength.
These remedies will only bring temporary relief, in case of symptoms increase and intensify; you should call your doctor for consultation and take proper medications and course of treatment.
Apart from the cure, there are multiple things that you can do to avoid bone spur in the first place unless caused by arthritis.
- Eat calcium and vitamin D enriched food
- Anti-oxidant rich diet (including dark chocolate, wild blueberries, elderberries, pecans, etc.)
- Practice a healthy workout regularly (such as change your workout style, do not overexert, etc.)
- Avoid running or jogging on hard surfaces
- Wear comfortable shoes with proper arch support
- Maintain a healthy weight and a balanced BMI
- Eat magnesium-rich food
- Include alkaline-rich foods in your diet
- Take adequate vitamins and minerals
- Maintain good posture
They say ‘Prevention is better than cure’ and it is highly recommended in this case. Follow some simple lifestyle rules and change in habits and you can keep bone spurs at a bay.
Bone spurs from their symptoms, cure to the location are vast and widely varied. Though very common, a bone spur might not cause any trouble at all and go unnoticed for years or more. Mild bone spurs can easily be cured at home with multiple easily-applicable remedies. For cases where it does cause trouble to the joint, an effective diagnosis followed with a proper course of treatment is crucial to reduce pain, relieve stress and restore movement. However, some severe cases might require surgery; it is not the ultimate solution as bone spurs do tend to recur and surgery only postpones the recurrence for a short period of time. However, the main motto is to treat the underlying condition (arthritis, disease, degeneration) to completely diminish the existence of the bone spur. If the main cause is not treated with proper care, removal of the bone spur will only bring an expensive, invasive and temporary relief.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for you while encountering a bone spur:
Try home remedies for basic pain relief
Take any medications without doctor consultation
Consult a doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication
Ignore and curb symptoms of a bone spur
Attack the underlying cause of bone spur
Put pressure on the affected joint
Follow an active, healthy and balanced lifestyle
Opt for surgery unless all remedies fail
With increasing cases of bone spur nowadays, it is best to be informed, be vigilant and take proper care of yourself.