A bone spur is a protrusion of excess bone that grows on normal bone, usually at the joint or on the spine. Although the name sounds distinctly unpleasant, in many cases bone spurs are not painful and in fact, you may not even know you have them for many years.
Bone spurs are not as sharp or pointy as the name suggests – they’re generally smooth, so any pain or discomfort they cause are more from rubbing against other bone, nerves or various connective tissues rather than because they’re poking through skin, for example. They’re very simply an excess growth of bone.
Damage to the bone or joint, especially from wear and tear, are usually the reason bone spurs develop. This wear and tear can take many forms; for example, damage to bones and ligaments can occur as the result of physical activity that strains a joint (such as dancing or running can do to the feet), from carrying excess body weight, or from an injury. Many people develop bone spurs simply as part of the aging process: osteoarthritis causes the protective cartilage that lines our joints to wear away, and bone spurs are one of the primary results of this. The body tries to compensate by growing more bone in the joint area to make up for the missing cartilage.
Although it sounds like a painful condition, a bone spur may go unnoticed for years without an x-ray or other test: many are not painful and don’t affect movement. However, they can cause varying symptoms depending on where the growths are located. If they affect the knee, you may find it difficult to fully bend it; on the fingers, they can appear as bony knobs under the skin, making the hands look gnarled; when they grow on the spine they can compress spinal nerves, causing numbness or tingling sensations throughout the body. If you notice signs such as pain, swelling, or limited motion in one of your joints – hips, knees, ankles, shoulders – talk to your doctor. Early intervention and treatment can help reduce joint damage and pain from bone spurs and related conditions like osteoarthritis.