What Do Osteophytes (Bone Spurs) Indicate?

Medically Reviewed on 10/19/2022
Bone Spurs
Bone spurs are symptomless for most people and many people frequently aren't even aware that they have them.

Osteophytes, also referred to as bone spurs, are an excessive growth of bone tissue (or bony projections) where the bones meet (in the joints). This type of osteophyte is called marginal osteophyte.

  • The body's response to wear and tear and joint degeneration results in the development of osteophytes.
  • Most of the bone spurs themselves shouldn't hurt.
  • Bone spurs are frequent and can form on many joints throughout the body.

Bone spurs appear gradually in people with arthritis or joint damage and are common in the feet, hands, knees, and spine. A healthy lifestyle can help delay symptoms, including pain, rigidity, and reduced movement.

What are the symptoms of bone spurs?

Bone spurs are symptomless for most people. Many people frequently aren't even aware that they have bone spurs until an X-ray is taken to diagnose another condition, which also shows bony protrusions.

Signs and symptoms are typically caused by medical disorders that cause bone spurs.

Common signs of a degenerating synovial joint, such as a knee joint, include:

  • Joint discomfort with motion
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint crepitus with motion
  • Loss of motion and deformity
  • Disturbing pain with activity and limited joint mobility is the main functional issues
  • Pain, numbness, and paralysis may be caused by an invasion of the spinal neural tissues (nerve roots or spinal cord)
  • Protruding intervertebral disks, hypertrophied ligamentum flavum, and degenerative facet joints are all potential sources of neurological complaints

What causes osteophytes?

Joint deterioration caused by degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis is the most frequent cause of bone spurs. The cushioning between your spine's bones and joints might deteriorate. Lupus, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis can also harm your joints.

In addition, bone spurs frequently develop following a joint or tendon injury. Your body tries to heal a broken bone by growing a new bone where it thinks there is already some damage.

Additional reasons for bone spurs include:

  • Overuse, such as if you run or dance frequently for an extended period
  • Genes
  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Congenital bone conditions
  • Spinal stenosis (spine narrowing)
  • Poor posture
  • Nutrition
  • Disk and joint degeneration

How are bone spurs diagnosed?

If you don’t have symptoms, you can unintentionally find a bone spur when getting an X-ray or undergoing another test for a different condition. 

Osteophytes can sometimes be identified using a clinical examination. Examples include prominence (Heberden's nodes) at the distal interphalangeal joint of the hand because these joints are superficial.

Doctors can rule out illnesses that might have similar symptoms but different underlying causes after getting the person’s medical history and performing a physical examination.

A physician might advise the subsequent tests:

  • Electroconductive testing (demonstrates the severity and extent of spinal nerve damage)
  • CT scans
  • MRI
  • X-ray (to emphasize any bone changes)


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

How are bone spurs treated?

Bone spurs cannot be treated in a particular way. Asymptomatic bony spurs typically do not require medical attention. Symptoms and signs, if present, are frequently connected to the underlying diseases. Treatment is focused on the root cause rather than just the bony spurs. 

People with mild to moderate pressure on their spinal cord or nerves may benefit from conservative therapy, which might involve:

  • Rest
  • Physical therapy and joint manipulation (used to relieve nerve strain, improve posture, and regain flexibility and strength)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (used for four to six weeks to ease pain, reduce swelling, and relax the muscles)
  • Steroid injections (help with joint discomfort and swelling; these have transient effects, and you might need to repeat them up to three times in a calendar year)

Surgery, such as a laminectomy, to remove bone spurs may be necessary if this method fails. Your orthopedic surgeon can advise you on the best surgical approach based on your underlying orthopedic issues.

  • A total knee replacement may be the best surgical option for older people with severely deteriorating knee joints who are not responding to conservative therapies.
  • High tibial osteotomy or unicompartmental knee arthroplasty may be an appropriate surgical option for "younger" people with symptomatic unicompartmental degeneration of the knee joints who are not responding to conservative treatments.

Bone spurs are frequently removed as part of the chosen surgical technique. It is rarely necessary to perform surgery solely to " remove" bone spurs.

Medically Reviewed on 10/19/2022
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