What is a Bone Spur?
When most people hear the word “spur,” it’s hard to imagine anything other than a dusty John Wayne sauntering into town, white hat on and heels clicking. The everyday reality, however, is far more mundane and has much more to do with bones than chaps.
Bone spurs are a relatively common condition that, more often than not, require no medical intervention. Bone spurs normally occur as a consequence of aging. However, there are lifestyle factors, medical conditions, and certain situational injuries, that cause bone spurs to occur earlier in life — and sometimes in a painful way. By understanding what bone spurs are, you can make healthy lifestyle choices that not only prevent them but will keep you sauntering as well as any chap-clad cowboy.
Bone spurs, medically known as osteophytes, are bony growths that form along the edges of bones, particularly the edges of joints. That sounds painful, but bone spurs generally aren’t sharp like their name implies.
In fact, they can develop on any bone without signs or symptoms and often go undetected for years. Many people go through life not knowing that they have one or more bone spurs until they get an X-ray and the spur shows up as an oddity.
What Causes Bone Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis?
Bone spurs are often associated with osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes cartilage to break down. It is the most common type of arthritis affecting over 27 million Americans. As osteoarthritis breaks down the cartilage in joints, your body attempts to repair the loss, or at least shield the bones from the effects of lost cartilage. It does this by creating a build-up of bone along the edges of your existing bones. This generally comes as a response to continued pressure, rubbing, or stress over a long period of time.
Bone spurs can also be caused by other diseases and conditions like:
- Plantar fasciitis — A bone spur in your heel — or “heel spur” — can form where the connective tissue (fascia) connects to your heel bone (calcaneus). It’s one of the most common causes of heel pain and estimated to affect 2 million people in the US. The spur results from chronic irritation or inflammation of the connective tissue but doesn’t cause the pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
- Spondylosis — Also called “arthritis of the neck” occurs when osteoarthritis and bone spurs cause degeneration of the bones in your neck (cervical spondylosis) or your lower back (lumbar spondylosis).
- Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) — Causes bony growths to form on the ligaments of your spine. DISH is relatively common and occurs in 10% of the population over the age of 50.
- Spinal stenosis — Bone spurs can contribute to a narrowing of the bones that make up your spine (spinal stenosis), putting pressure on your spinal cord. There is currently no cure for this disease, but improving flexibility and strength by exercising can relieve symptoms and increase overall well-being.
Many older individuals without any diseases may still have bone spurs without being aware of them, as the body creates spurs to add stability to aging joints.
Where Do Bone Spurs Occur?
Working from head to toe, the most common areas for bone spurs to occur are in the cervical vertebrae of the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and heels. They are also common in the spine — adjacent to degenerated discs. That said, bone spurs can occur anywhere on any bone. Depending on what activities a person takes part in during their life, the wrists, hands, and feet are also common spots to develop spurs.
Why those areas?
Bone spurs typically occur when a joint is subject to continued rubbing or stress over a long period of time. With the hips, knees, and heels in mind, these are all areas where layers of cartilage and bone meet and are subject to frequent and repetitive movement and pressure. The cartilage and bones rub, wearing away at the cartilage over time. In response, the area becomes inflamed and new bone forms. This is the bone’s solution to the stress around it.
Risk Factors for Bone Spurs
For the most part, the risk factors for developing bone spurs are the same as for any other health condition: genetics, age, weight, lifestyle, physical activity, and health conditions over a lifetime.
Most common risk factors for bone spurs:
- Age — For the most part, it’s a lifetime of wear and tear — and our genetics — that ultimately leads to bone spurs.
- Genetics — Some individuals have a genetic disposition towards developing bones spurs, particularly when other conditions such as osteoarthritis are factored in. Also, genetics can play a role in the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which in turn can increase the risk of bone spurs.
- Injuries — Injury to a bone and/or joint can prompt the body to create bone spurs as part of the healing process. This goes for acute, one-off injuries like a broken bone, as well as ongoing strain, like wearing unsupportive footwear. Unsupportive footwear can result in an increased impact to the feet, knees, and hips with every step.
- Lifestyle — Work, sports, and even transportation encourage the formation of bone spurs. Additionally, life choices such as smoking can impact your likelihood of developing bone spurs.
- Medical Conditions — Certain medical conditions like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis all influence the potential formation of bone spurs.
- Nutrition — Nutrition has a powerful impact on overall health, including the skeleton. Inadequate calcium and other bone-building minerals put your bones at risk for osteoporosis, fractures, and bone spurs. Diets high in salt, phosphorus, or other competing minerals — while low in calcium — can have the same effect. On the other hand, too much calcium paired with low intake of the nutrients needed to absorb and use calcium can lead to bone spurs. That’s why we recommend a natural balance of nutrients (and calcium) in the right proportion for your bones. There’s only one known plant source on earth that is clinically proven and provides this balance.
- Posture — Poor posture over a lifetime can place undue pressure on joints. These fatigued joints can then develop bone spurs as compensation for the uneven pressure placed on them.
- Weight — Excess weight puts strain on bones and joints. It significantly increases the impact sustained by the joints during motion. This is why it’s important to strike a balance between healthy diet, lifestyle, and physical activity if you choose to lose weight. A variety of activities will serve you better for overall weight loss and decrease the strain associated with repetitive motion.
Symptoms of Bone Spurs
Many times, bone spurs do not have any symptoms, so they’re most often found when being examined for another condition like arthritis. If you suffer from joint pain, numbness, restricted movement, and/or extreme tenderness in a certain area — and your physician believes it may be bone spurs — you will then be given an x-ray, CT, or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis.
From there, you and your healthcare provider can select the best bone spur treatment depending on the location and severity of the spur, and any other contributing variables specific to your condition. Keep in mind, it’s not the actual bone spur that hurts, but rather the surrounding tissue. Asymptomatic bone spurs — spurs with no pain or inflammation — are rarely treated.
Heel spurs are the most common type of bone spur because of their location. After all, feet are the workhorses of the body and it can be hard to give them enough time to rest and heal. Heel spurs typically develop due to repeated impact. Excess weight, uneven walking, and ill-fitting shoes can all contribute to heel spurs.
Among others, a few signs you may have a heel spur include:
- Pain on the bottom of your foot when walking or standing
- And in many cases, plantar fasciitis.
When bone spurs show up in spots like the knee or shoulder joint, a sharp, shooting pain can be felt during certain movements. A loss in range of movement can be another sign of a bone spur in those areas, as well as swelling, tingling, and even a notable ‘catch’ when you move the joint.
Bone spurs in the spine may not be as easy to spot; backs are complicated and a variety of things can cause back pain. In the spine, bone spurs typically develop to accommodate the impact and pressure of cartilage breakdown over a lifetime. While that breakdown can be part of the normal aging process, conditions such as degenerative disk disease or spinal stenosis can play a part. Carrying extra weight and high-impact activities can also make an impact over time.
Bone spurs that occur in the spinal column can place pressure on nerves causing tingling in your arms and legs. You may also experience shooting pain, numbness, pain when standing or walking, digestive issues, and even occasional incontinence.
High-use joints like shoulders and knees are at a higher risk of developing bone spurs. The signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause and location of the bone spur. That being said, pain, restricted movement, inflammation, and stiffness are common.
Bone Spur Diagnosis
As mentioned above, some people go their entire lives without knowing they have a bone spur until it shows up on medical imaging, like an x-ray. If the bone spur is asymptomatic and not affecting the surrounding tissue, the spur won’t require treatment. However, health care providers may make recommendations on lifestyle changes to prevent further spurs from forming.
When symptoms begin to persist, it’s time for your doctor to not only look for bone spurs but assess the cause of the spur as well. To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor might send you for a CT scan, MRI, myelogram, ultrasound, or x-ray.
Your healthcare provider will choose the best testing option for you based on the availability of technology, current signs and symptoms, and your health history. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, you can discuss treatment options.
Conventional Treatment Options
Bone spur treatments can help to manage and relieve the pain that is associated with bone spurs. However, they will not go away on their own. Unlike herniated and bulging discs in the spine for example, that have the ability to heal through the process of resorption, bone spurs are permanent deposits.
Treatment will depend on the location, cause, and severity of your symptoms. Non-invasive treatment options are typically tried first.
It’s not fancy or expensive, but resting what ails you is often the first thing your healthcare provider will recommend. If you continue to aggravate the tissue, it won’t have an opportunity to heal. Taking time to step back from the activities that are hurting the area will not only speed healing but likely ease the pain as well. It will also help you identify which activities may be offending your bone spurs and once you do that, it is recommended to ice the affected area immediately.
When you apply ice to muscles, it reduces blood flow and constricts blood vessels, which will decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation.
In one randomized controlled study, cryoultrasound (a combination of ultrasound and cryotherapy — a therapy using short bouts of subzero temperatures) has been shown to be an effective treatment for chronic plantar fasciitis. One group was given cryoultrasound therapy while the other cryotherapy, both groups reported reduced pain intensity showing early promise as effective treatment options.
Tight muscles are the culprit behind many skeletal issues. Muscles and tendons that are designed to support joints and bones can actually pull them out of proper alignment if they get too tight. Stretching helps release tight muscles and tendons slowly over time, which can also ease pressure related to bone spurs.
Weight loss comes up a lot in the discussion of bone spurs and that’s because excess weight puts more pressure on joints and bones. Over time, this excess pressure breaks down the impact-protecting cartilage in some joints, like the end of the bones in the knees and the cartilage in between each vertebra. In the feet, excess weight puts substantial pressure on all the small bones, shifting them around. It not only causes unnecessary wear and tear on the bones themselves but also the tissues that hold them in place.
When it comes to shedding pounds, for any reason, find a balance between a healthy diet and exercise. Keep your exercises varied, as this not only keeps things interesting and exciting but reduces the risk of causing injury through repetitive motion. Take running for example. Running is not recommended as a weight loss activity for someone with heel spurs, but stretching, swimming, yoga, pilates, and walking are great options. Pair that with a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, and you’ll be feeling fit and trim in no time.
Another temporary bone spur treatment is anti-inflammatory over-the-counter or prescription medications. However, these can cause side effects such as ulcers, bleeding, and even bone loss if used long term. Steroid injections may also be recommended if pain persists. However, side effects can worsen symptoms and there are complications that can result from steroid injections, like a rupture of your plantar fascia.
A number of options may be suggested by your doctor, including anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and natural at-home spur treatments like stretching and ice.
If bone spurs are causing discomfort, treatment could be directed at the causes, symptoms, or the bone spur itself. If the cause of the bone spur is not addressed, removal of the spur will only provide an expensive, invasive, temporary reprieve.
Surgical removal of bone spurs is often the last resort after all natural treatments and non-invasive options have been explored. This option is generally reserved for when the spur begins to limit your range of motion or causes extreme pain.
5 Natural Bone Spur Treatments
Keep in mind, bone spurs don’t always require treatment.
Some bone spurs have no signs, symptoms, or discomfort, while others can be excruciating and greatly impact mobility.
However, there are natural remedies that you can try if you are experiencing discomfort or pain.
A healthy diet is crucial for overall health, but also bone spur treatment as they typically develop in areas of inflammation. Antioxidants are compounds that are found in foods that protect your cells from free radical damage and can help reduce inflammation. ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a measure of antioxidant content in foods that was initially developed by the National Institute of Aging.The relation between ORAC value and food/supplements and their benefits is still unproven. But researchers theorize that higher ORAC value may be more effective at neutralizing free radicals.
Here are some of the top antioxidant-rich foods by weight:
- Dark Chocolate: 20,816 ORAC score
- Pecans: 17,940 ORAC score
- Elderberries: 14,697 ORAC score
- Wild Blueberries: 9,621 ORAC score
- Kidney Beans: 8,606 ORAC score
- Blackberries: 5,905 ORAC score
- Cilantro: 5,141 ORAC score
- Goji Berries: 4,310 ORAC score
The website Superfoodly has a convenient, regularly updated tool where you can type in the food you’re interested in and you can see its ORAC value.
As you can see, ORAC scores are based on weight. So it may not make sense to eat high amounts of all of these foods above.
And stop adding fuel to the fire by removing proinflammatory foods like added sugar, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats.
Massage and Stretching
In a meta-analysis of 60 studies published in the journal Pain Medicine, massage has been looked at to help relieve various types of pain including headaches, internal pain, fibromyalgia pain, and muscle and bone pain. This systematic review showed that massage therapy relieves pain better than no treatment at all. And when compared to other treatments like physical therapy and acupuncture, massage still proved beneficial with few side effects.
Studies have shown that massage can specifically lower Substance P, which is a neurotransmitter associated with pain.
When it comes to plantar fasciitis, stretching of the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon is considered one of the best treatments. That’s because stretching the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon helps to relieve stress placed on them by tight tendons and tissues surrounding the bone spurs.
Orthotics and Proper Footwear
If the bone spur is in the foot — as in plantar fasciitis — then orthotics, new footwear, and extra cushy insoles may help. Shoes that are too constricting and tight can prevent movement of your tendons and damage the bones in your feet.
Turmeric has been scientifically proven time and time again to reduce inflammation substantially. A compound in turmeric root, known as curcumin, is responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties! Curcumin is linked to positive improvements in hundreds of different diseases and conditions and is among the most potent antioxidants on earth. When looking for a quality turmeric supplement, make sure it’s standardized to 95% curcuminoids.
The omega 3 fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) also boast anti-inflammatory properties and protect against age-associated cognitive decline, cardiovascular diseases, and bone loss. Triple Power Omega 3 Fish Oil puts the brakes on inflammation and contains clinical doses of turmeric curcumin, omega 3 fatty acids, and an additional potent anti-inflammatory, astaxanthin.
Ginger is one of the most consumed dietary substances in the world! Studies have shown that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties as strong as over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen. When looking for a quality ginger supplement, make sure it’s standardized to 5-6% gingerols and 6% shogoals.
Adequate Vitamin and Mineral Intake
Bone spurs are directly associated with osteoarthritis, the breakdown of the cartilage in joints. Osteoarthritis can be linked to calcium and mineral deficiency and can be treated and prevented with a diet that’s well-rounded with balanced nutrients. So it makes sense that bone spurs can also be treated with a high calcium and mineral diet. As they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Magnesium is an essential mineral used for bone formation and absorbing calcium. Low magnesium has also been linked with higher C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body — an indicator of inflammation. So incorporating magnesium-rich foods like black beans, spinach, and pumpkin seeds will up your dietary intake. Vitamin C is also crucial for collagen formation and a lack of it can also weaken tendons and ligaments.
It can be difficult to consistently hit your recommended intake of vitamins and minerals, which is why it can be beneficial to incorporate a daily supplement like AlgaeCal Plus. AlgaeCal Plus is a natural, bone-friendly calcium complex with all 13 mandatory trace minerals, including magnesium, for your bones. It supports bone health while actually building new bone.
Bone Spur Prevention and Outlook
Bone spurs, from symptoms to location, are vast and varied. Some of them you’ll never notice, while others can cripple you with pain and require surgery. Some respond well to natural remedies and others may require man-made intervention, like orthotics.
However, prevention — and even treatment — remains the same in a lot of ways. Wear good footwear, eat a balanced diet that is nutrient-dense, and change up your exercise routine to avoid repetitive impact injuries.