Bone spurs are bony projections that develop along the edges of bones. Bone spurs (osteophytes) often form where bones meet each other — in your joints. They can also form on the bones of your spine.

The main cause of bone spurs is the joint damage associated with osteoarthritis. Most bone spurs cause no symptoms and may go undetected for years. They may not require treatment. Decisions about treatment depend on where spurs are situated and how they affect your health.

Most bone spurs cause no signs or symptoms. You might not realize you have bone spurs until an X-ray for another condition reveals the growths. In some cases, though, bone spurs can cause pain and loss of motion in your joints.

Specific symptoms depend on where the bone spurs are. Examples include:

  • Knee. Bone spurs in your knee may make it painful to extend and bend your leg. The bony growths can get in the way of bones and tendons that keep your knee operating smoothly.
  • Spine. Bone spurs on your vertebrae can narrow the space that contains your spinal cord. These bone spurs can pinch the spinal cord or its nerve roots and can cause weakness or numbness in your arms or legs.
  • Hip. Bone spurs can make it painful to move your hip, although you might feel the pain in your knee. Depending on their placement, bone spurs can reduce the range of motion in your hip joint.
  • Shoulder. Bone spurs can rub on your rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that help control your shoulder movements. This can cause swelling (tendinitis) and tears in your rotator cuff.
  • Fingers. Appearing as hard lumps under your skin, bone spurs can make the joints in your fingers look knobby.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have pain or swelling in one or more joints or if you have difficulty moving a joint. Early treatment can help prevent or slow further joint damage.

Joint damage from osteoarthritis is the most common cause of bone spurs. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage cushioning the ends of your bones, your body attempts to repair the loss by creating bone spurs near the damaged area.

You'll probably first see your family doctor. He or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of joint disorders (rheumatologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

  • List your symptoms and how long you've had them.
  • Write down key medical information, including other conditions you have, all medications and supplements you take, and family history of bone or joint disease.
  • Note recent injuries that affected a joint.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor. Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.

Below are some basic questions to ask a doctor who is examining you for joint problems. If other questions occur to you, don't hesitate to ask.

  • What's the most likely cause of my signs and symptoms?
  • Are there other possible causes?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend, if any?
  • I have other health problems. How can I manage them together?
  • How much do you expect my symptoms will improve with treatment?
  • If you're recommending medications, are there possible side effects?
  • Is surgery an option in my case? Why or why not?
  • What self-care measures can I take to help manage symptoms?
  • How often will you see me to monitor my progress?
  • Should I see a specialist?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth. Your doctor may ask:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?
  • How severe is your pain?
  • Are you having trouble moving the affected joint or joints?
  • Are your symptoms affecting your ability to complete daily tasks?
  • If you've tried at-home treatments so far, what, if anything, has helped?
  • What is your typical exercise routine?

During the physical exam, your doctor may feel around your joint to pinpoint your pain. Sometimes your doctor can feel a bone spur.

Your doctor may order X-rays or other imaging tests to view your joints and bones.

If your bone spurs cause pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others). Bone spurs that limit your range of motion or press on nerves may require surgical removal.

Feb. 27, 2015