“Bone spur” is a general term used to describe a knobby, abnormal bone growth. Bone spurs also are known as osteophytes. These growths usually are small and often undetected. They may develop as a response to inflammation caused by arthritis or tendonitis. This inflammation makes bone cells think the bone is injured, so they create more bone. Spurs also may develop after a trauma as the body tries to heal itself by replacing bone.
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 themselves are not painful, but they can cause pain if they rub on a nerve or other tissue.
Heel spurs are one of the most common types of bone spurs. They usually are located on the underside of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. If the plantar fascia is overstretched, such as from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes or being overweight, the body may build extra bone in response to this stress, resulting in heel spurs.
Osteoarthritis is a common cause of bone spurs. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the bones in a joint thins or wears away entirely, leaving bone rubbing against bone. This can cause inflammation that eventually distorts the originally smooth surface of the joint. Bone spurs will sometimes grow on the edges of the joint.
Who is at risk for bone spurs?
Older adults are more prone to developing bone spurs, but spurs can occur in young athletes because of the added stress on their muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Treatment for bone spurs
Most bone spurs do not need to be treated. If needed, treatment may include:
- Cold packs
- Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
- Stretching prior to activity
- Proper footwear or shoe inserts
- Corticosteroid injections
- Surgery (for more severe, prolonged conditions)