Osteophytes are bony lumps (bone spurs) that grow on the bones of the spine or around the joints. It is a bony projection associated with the degeneration of cartilage at joints and they are not cancerous in nature.
They often form next to joints affected by osteoarthritis, a condition that causes joints to become painful and stiff.
Osteophytes can grow from any bone, but they’re most often found in the:
- Lower back
- Fingers or big toe
- Foot or heel
Who gets bone spurs?
Bone spurs are most common in people 60 years or older, but younger people can get them, too. People with osteoarthritis (OA) are much more likely to get bone spurs. OA is a common form of “wear and tear” arthritis that happens when cartilage, which cushions your bones, wears down.
Osteophytes do not always cause symptoms. Some common symptoms are:-
- Rub against other bone or tissue
- Restrict movement
- Squeeze nearby nerves
For example, osteophytes in the:
- Spine can cause pain and stiffness in the back
- Neck can pinch a nearby nerve and cause pain, numbness or weakness in the arms
- The shoulder can limit the space available for tendons and ligaments, and may be linked to a rotator cuff tear.
- hip and knee can reduce the range of movement and are often associated with painful Arthritis.
- Knee may cause pain when you bend and extend your leg.
- Fingers can cause lumps.
What causes osteophytes?
Osteophytes tend to form when the joints have been affected by arthritis. Osteoarthritis damages cartilage, the tough, white, flexible tissue that lines the bones and allows the joints to move easily. Osteoarthritis is most common in the knees, hips, spine and small joints of the hands and base of the big toe.
As the joints become increasingly damaged, new bone may form around the joints. These bony growths are called osteophytes.
Osteophytes can also form in the spine as a result of Ankylosing Spondylitis, a type of arthritis that specifically affects the spine.
How are bone spurs diagnosed?
- Your symptoms.
- Ask about your medical history and family’s medical history.
- Ask you to rate your discomfort.
- Perform a Physical Examination.
- Test your joint’s range of motion and strength.
- Order imaging tests, like X-rays to look for arthritis and spurs or CT Scan or MRIs to identify damaged ligaments or tendons.
- Osteophytes do not usually cause pain, but the associated arthritis might.
- If you’re in pain, painkillers you can buy from a pharmacy or shop, such as Paracetamol or ibuprofen, may help.
- Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drug (NSAIDs), which can also help reduce any swelling and inflammation.
- If you’re overweight, losing Weight will help by relieving some of the strain on your joints.
- A Physiotherapist may also be able to help you by recommending exercises that can strengthen the muscles surrounding the problem area, and by helping to improve your range of movement.
- Surgery can sometimes be used to help manage any underlying arthritis in the joint. It can be helpful for osteoarthritis that affects your hips, knees or joints, particularly those at the base of your thumb.
How can we reduce risk of Osteophytes (bone spurs)?
There is no certain way to prevent bone spurs. But you can reduce your chance of developing them by following a healthy lifestyle:
- Be physically fit.
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight to reduce extra stress on bones and joints.
- Maintain good posture and ergonomics (proper positioning at your desk).
- Prevent joint injuries by stretching and using safe exercise techniques. Don’t overdo it.
- Wear well-fitting, supportive shoes.