Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

What causes bone spurs on the spine?

A bone spur is a small piece of bone that projects from the normal bone around joints. Spurs usually are caused by inflammation that stimulates formation of new bone. Examples of causes of local inflammation at the edge of joints that cause spurs are inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that attach to the bone. For example, inflammation of the ligament that surrounds a degenerating disc between the vertebrae (bony building blocks of the spine) is a very common cause of bone spurs of the spine.

Bone spur facts

  • A bone spur (osteophyte) is a tiny pointed outgrowth of bone.
  • Bone spurs are usually caused by local inflammation, such as from degenerative arthritis or tendonitis.
  • Bone spurs develop in areas of inflammation or injury of nearby cartilage or tendons.
  • Bone spurs may or may not cause symptoms. When they do cause symptoms, the symptoms depend on their location.
  • Bone spurs can be associated with pain, numbness, tenderness, and weakness if they are irritating adjacent tissues.
  • Bone spurs are detected by radiologic testing, such as with plain X-rays, ultrasound imaging, MRI scan, CT scan, and myelograms.
  • Bone spurs are treated only if they are causing symptoms. Initial treatment is directed toward decreasing inflammation and avoiding reinjury when possible.

What is a bone spur?

A bone spur is a tiny pointed outgrowth of bone.

What causes bone spurs?

Bone spurs are usually caused by local inflammation, such as from degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) or tendinitis. This inflammation stimulates the cells that form bone to deposit bone in this area, eventually leading to a bony prominence or spur. For example, inflammation of the ligament that surrounds a degenerating disc between the vertebrae (the bony building blocks of the spine) is a very common cause of bone spurs of the spine. Inflammation of the Achilles tendon can lead to the formation of a bone spur at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus bone). Inflammation of the tissue on the bottom of the foot, plantar fasciitis, can lead to a bone spur at the underside of the heel bone. These bone spurs are sometimes referred to as heel spurs. A bone spur is medically referred to as an osteophyte. Rarely, bone spurs may occur as a result of congenital conditions. An osteochondroma is one type of these congenital spurs.

Picture of the metatarsal (foot) and calcaneus (heel) bones, the plantar fascia ligament, and the Achilles tendon of the lower leg and foot
Picture of the metatarsal (foot) and calcaneus (heel) bones, the plantar fascia ligament, and the Achilles tendon of the lower leg and foot
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/29/2015

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