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Osteophytes are hard, bony lumps that grow on the ends of your bones or around your joints and can cause pain and stiffness. We explain what causes them and what treatment is available.

What is an osteophyte?

Osteophytes (also called bone spurs) are hard, bony lumps that grow on the ends of your bones or around your joints, where two bones meet. Some people don’t experience any symptoms, but they can cause pain, stiffness, numbness and weakness.

What causes bone spurs?

Bone spurs often form when your joints have been affected by osteoarthritis. When you have osteoarthritis, it can damage your cartilage. This makes it harder for the joints to move freely, increasing the chance of new bone growing around them.

Osteophyte symptoms

Bone spurs can develop on any bone, but they are most commonly found in your:

  • Shoulder

  • Knee

  • Neck

  • Lower back

  • Fingers or big toe

  • Foot or heel

Osteophytes don’t always cause symptoms, but they can press against other bones or tissue, pinch nerves and reduce movement.

General symptoms can include:

  • Pain or stiffness in the affected joint, especially when you try to bend or move it

  • Spasms, cramps, or weakness in your muscles

  • Tingling, weakness and numbness in your arms or legs

The specific symptoms you experience can depend on what part of your body is affected. For example, you might get:

  • Back pain and stiffness if you have osteophytes in your spine

  • Painful, numb, or weak arms, caused by bone spurs in the neck squeezing nearby nerves

  • Pain when you bend or extend your leg, due to bone spurs in your knee

  • Pain moving your hip, or sometimes in your knee, if you have bones spurs in your hip

Osteophytes diagnosis

See the doctor if you’re experiencing joint pain or stiffness, numbness, or nerve pain. They will ask you more about your symptoms, look at your medical history and examine the affected area. This might include tests to assess your joint movement and muscle strength.

Other tests that might be recommended include:

  • X-ray – A scan that uses electromagnetic waves to create an image of the inside of your body and can help to show bone spurs and arthritis in your joints

  • MRI – A scan that uses magnetic fields and radio waves and is especially useful for examining torn ligaments or tendons

Osteophyte treatment

It’s not usually possible to prevent bone spurs caused by arthritis, but you can take steps to prevent them being caused by other things. For example:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones

  • Wear well-fitted shoes that have enough room around the toes and a good arch support

  • Maintain a healthy body weight

  • Do plenty of weight-bearing exercise, like walking and running

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: