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Bone spurs (medically termed osteophytes) are bony protrusions that develop on bones.
They’re usually found at joints in the body such as the knees, hips, fingers, toes, elbows, and shoulders.
Spurs tend to develop where two bones meet and can cause tremendous discomfort.
They can (and do) grow on many parts of the body, though they are ubiquitous in the knee area.
Bone spurs in the knee can be problematic too, causing intense pain, swelling, and discomfort.
They also look unsightly if they grow too big, perhaps even distorting the appearance of the knee, which undoubtedly causes self-confidence issues.
These bony growths might also affect the surrounding soft tissue, leading to redness, heat build-up, and potential infection.
This article examines what actually causes bone spurs to develop.
We’ll look at what symptoms they might cause and how they can be treated or removed if necessary.
It also discusses ways to prevent bone spurs in the first place to maintain healthy, fully functioning joints and to prevent further joint damage.
Bone spurs are bony projection (s) that form in certain regions of the body.
You can often ‘feel’ bony spurs before you see them, simply by running your hands over your skin, perhaps when applying moisturizer or having a massage.
They start small and grow larger given time, sometimes resembling a golf ball size.
They are outgrowths of bone, so are noticeable if they are large enough.
It’s thought that spurs develop from repeated stress, pressure, or irritation on the bone itself.
Many think that a bunion on the big toe is one of the most known bony spurs out there – caused by ill-fitting shoes or genetics, but it is not.
Heel spurs are the most well-known type of bone spur.
However, some bony spurs can grow for no recognized cause.
Bony spurs don’t just happen overnight either – instead, it’s a longer period of time and a slow process until they become noticeable.
Some believe that the formation of bone spurs is the body’s way of protecting itself.
That the body feels under stress or pressure and needs to ‘build up’ its forces to protect the area under ‘attack’.
Certain conditions can make bony spur formation more likely, including:
- Knee osteoarthritis
- Repetitive stress on the affected joint
- Bad posture
- Poor footwear (bony spurs in the toes)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Age-related changes
- High impact sports
- Poor diet (high salt)
What Causes Bone Spurs?
Sometimes there is no known cause or reason found for bone spurs.
Other times, bone spurs in the knee might be caused by obesity, aging, injury, or an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of bone spurs due to cartilage wearing away between the bones, leading to pain and swelling.
As a result, the bone reacts, laying down more and more bone to protect itself.
Sadly, cartilage isn’t reformed by the body – once it’s worn away, it’s gone forever.
High-impact activities or a sports injury might also contribute to the breakdown of cartilage in the knee, thus increasing one’s risk of developing bone spurs later in life.
Older adults too, and those with elevated body weight are at a higher risk of developing spurs.
It’s often the case that bony spurs are asymptomatic. The individual may not even know that a bony spur exists.
In other circumstances, bone spurs cause pain, swelling, chronic inflammation, stiffness, tenderness on palpation, and even loss of motion in the knee or hip joint.
Individuals with painful spurs often share that the pain of a bony lump increases with exercise or when under strain.
To determine the cause of knee pain or another joint’s pain, a doctor will typically perform a physical exam and ask for your medical history.
Imaging tests like X-rays or CT scans are helpful in assessing whether any bony spurs could be causing discomfort.
For more complex cases involving nerves or the spinal cord, an MRI scan might also be recommended.
To be upfront, there is one main bone spur treatment, which is bone spur removal.
This is done through surgery, but it might not be as horrific as you imagine.
Alternatively, it’s leaving the bone spur alone.
My advice? Don’t delay getting medical attention if you do notice a lump or bone spur developing.
Arthroscopic surgery or minor open surgical procedures may be needed to remove a large bone spur and/or reshape an affected joint.
If it’s a smaller bone spur, then conservative treatment may suffice.
This might include some physical therapy, rest, and recovery; anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs may also reduce pain and swelling, while corticosteroid injections can act on inflammation directly surrounding the bone spur in the soft tissues.
It goes without saying that getting as much rest as (practically) possible is a good idea – particularly if you notice pain increasing when you exercise the joint.
Maintaining healthy bones and joints is essential for avoiding bone spurs in the knee.
Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed, and you may still end up developing a bone spur at some point in your life.
If you do, don’t be alarmed; there will be a treatment plan for you!
My top piece of advice to prevent bone spurs from developing is to enjoy gentle exercise to build up your muscle strength, eat a balanced diet with proper hydration, and generally look after your knees.
Easier said than done!
But avoiding the obvious risk factors, such as high-impact sports or traumatic events, are your best bet to prevent bone spurs in the knee.
Exercises that strengthen the muscles around the affected area without causing discomfort can be beneficial for preventing bone spurs from forming.
Eating various fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can also help promote strong bones and joints, while avoiding foods high in saturated fat, salt or processed sugar may reduce inflammation associated with certain conditions leading to bone spur formation.
Ultimately, if you have symptoms of a bone spur, don’t wait to get the necessary medical treatment.
Caught early, the bone spur may be managed conservatively without the need for removal.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it’s given you insight into bony spurs.
To read more of my posts, click here.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.