What are bone spurs or osteophytes?

A osteophyte is a bony growth or deposit that forms on the joint space marginsusually within the joint capsule.

Osteophytes are therefore a type of exostoses (bone growth on the surface of normal bone) and also a type of hyperostosis (excessive and abnormal growth of bone tissue).

Osteophytes are also known as bone spursalthough bone spurs include other forms of exostoses, for example enthesophytes (growth of bone at the anchoring site of Sharpey's fibers).

Osteophytes usually grow slowly and do not produce symptoms for a long time.

They often grow in joints that show any signs of degeneration and are associated with the most common type of arthritis, arthritis. osteoarthritis. Although arthritis is caused by degradation of the articular cartilage, there is also remodeling of the subchondral bone, and this is what leads to the formation of spurs or osteophytes.

Osteophyte formation

Bone spurs usually form in response to some abnormality in the joint, such as changes associated with aginga degenerative processesa diseases oa mechanical damage in the joint.

As the protective cartilage deteriorates and the bone becomes more and more exposed, a inflammatory answer that is producing changes in the structures around the joints.

The ligaments thicken and calcium deposits are formed that will give rise to new bone growth. This new bone is what is known as an osteophyte or bone spur.

In this sense, bone spurs can be considered as an attempt by the organism to increase the surface of the joint and that the forces and impacts on it are better distributed. However, the effect is usually the opposite, decreasing joint mobility and putting pressure on the nerves and other supporting tissues of that joint.

Bone spurs can also form in non-inflammatory conditions, for example in diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. Up to 80% of patients diagnosed with this disease suffer from pain and stiffness in the back due to the formation of osteophytes along the spine.

Risk factor's

As described above, the formation of osteophytes is associated with joint degeneration processes, and as in them, there are certain factors that increase the risk of suffering from them:

  • age and aging
  • disc degeneration
  • joint degeneration
  • Joint injuries of various kinds (sports, trauma)
  • poor postural hygiene
  • Genetic factors
  • Congenital skeletal disorders


In many cases and for quite a long time, bone spurs may not cause any apparent symptoms, pain or any other problems, even the symptoms may not be from the spur itself but from the underlying cause (arthritis, bone degeneration, disease). , etc).

The formation of osteophytes in the joints of the fingers (called Heberden's nodes) not only cause the inflammation typically associated with arthritis, but also limit dexterity in the movements of the fingers.

Lumbar bone spurs
X-ray showing bone spurs in the lumbar vertebrae

Bone spurs that form along the spine can compress nerves and result in radiculopathy. In these cases, one of the main symptoms is pain in different parts of the body depending on the nerve bundles affected, along with a sensation of numbness, tingling and prickling in the extremities.

These spinal spurs are a common sign in degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis).

Diagnosis and treatment

The diagnosis of osteophytes can be made with the naked eye in a Physical exam in certain joints, such as the proximal interphalangeal joint, the distal interphalangeal joint, or the first carpometacarpal joint.

In other joints, the presence of bone spurs should be confirmed by imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, or computed tomography.

If X-ray tests were performed on people over the age of 50 on a random basis, most would show some evidence of osteophyte formation, although most would also show no symptoms.

As mentioned, most bone spurs are not problematic in themselves and do not usually require special treatment, but they may be indicative of an underlying problem that does need treatment.

In case of pain, it is usual to use NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) along with other types of analgesics and anti-inflammatoriessuch as corticosteroids, both oral and in injections and infiltrations.

Only in some cases can it be recommended surgical intervention to remove the spur, especially if it seriously impacts the person's ability to carry out their daily life.

However, surgically removed spurs will grow back if the underlying cause is not resolved. Keep in mind that some diseases that commonly occur with osteophytes have no cure, such as osteoarthritis.

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