How to Handle Arthritis-Related Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, although they may sound like something that spontaneously occurs, actually arise over time. They're smooth overgrowths of normal bone that can occur anywhere on your body, although they're commonly found on the spine, hips, knees, shoulders, and neck. If you have osteoarthritis, you may find yourself with bone spurs as a result of that condition. But why exactly do they occur and what can you do about them?

Bone spurs are common as you age. Especially in people 60 and older, bone spurs occur with surprising frequency. Arthritis, which occurs to some degree in almost everyone who lives long enough, is a typical cause of these bone spurs. What happens is that the cartilage that normally covers the ends of the bones erodes. This wearing away of the tissue means the bones rub against each other and cause spurs to form at the joint. In fact, bone spurs can signify osteoarthritis in someone who isn't aware he or she has it.

Pain is the primary signal of a bone spur. Let's say you've got bone spurs in your spine. What's happened is that they've formed inside the small openings that exist behind each spinal disc and under each joint. These openings are just wide enough for spinal nerves to pass through. When bone spurs impinge on these nerves, they cause pain. You may feel this pain in your neck or lower back, and it may change as you stand, sit or walk. You also may feel numbness, muscle weakness, and have radiating pain into your buttocks and legs (if the area affected is lower) or into the shoulders and head (if the area affected is higher).

Commonly Asked Questions

How do I know what I'm feeling is a bone spur and not something else? Your doctor may need to rule out other conditions. Bone spurs can be detected with x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and electroconductive tests which can highlight the degree of injury to the joint.

How can I treat my bone spurs? For many people, bone spurs can be managed with a few lifestyle changes. Physical therapy to keep joints strong and flexible may help. Physicians may administer cortisone shots into the affected areas or prescribe pain-relieving and anti-swelling medication. Additional rest may be needed on certain days. Stubborn bone spurs that don't respond to gentle treatments may require surgery.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,
St. John Providence Health System,