A bone spur is a bony growth formed on normal bone. Most people think of something sharp when they think of a spur, but a bone spur is just extra bone. It's usually smooth, but it can cause wear and tear or pain if it presses or rubs on other bones or soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, or nerves in the body.
A bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It typically forms in response to pressure, rubbing, or stress that continues over a long period of time.
Some bone spurs form as part of the aging process. As we age, the slippery tissue called cartilage that covers the end of the bones within the joint breaks down and eventually wears away. Over time, this leads to pain and swelling, and in some cases, bone spurs forming along the edge of the joint. Bone spurs due to aging are especially common in the feet.
Bone spurs form in the feet in response to tight ligaments, to activities such as dancing and running that put stress on the feet, and to pressure from being overweight or from poorly fitting shoes. For example, the long ligament on the bottom of the foot, the plantar fascia, can become stressed or tight and pull on the heel, causing the ligament to become inflamed. As the bone tries to mend itself, a bone spur can form on the bottom of the heel, known as a heel spur. Pressure on the back of the heel from frequently wearing shoes that are too tight can cause a bone spur. This is sometimes called pump bump, or Haglund's Deformity, because it is seen in women who wear high heels.
Many people have a bone spur without ever knowing, because most bone spurs cause no symptoms. But if the bone spurs are pressing on the bones or tissues or are causing a muscle or tendon to rub, they can break that tissue down over time, causing pain, swelling, and tearing. Bone spurs in the foot can also cause corns and calluses when tissue builds up to provide added padding over the bone spur.
A bone spur is usually visible on an X-ray. But since most bone spurs do not cause problems, it would be unusual to take an X-ray just to see if you have a bone spur. If you had an X-ray to evaluate one of the problems associated with bone spurs, such as arthritis, bone spurs would be visible on that X-ray.
Bone spurs do not require treatment unless they are causing pain or damaging other tissues. When needed, treatment may be directed at the causes, symptoms, or the bone spurs themselves.
Treatment directed at the cause of bone spurs may include weight loss to take some pressure off the joints (especially when osteoarthritis or plantar fasciitis is the cause) and stretching the affected area, such as the heel cord and bottom of the foot. Seeing a physical therapist for ultrasound or deep tissue massage may be helpful for plantar fasciitis.
Treatment directed at the symptoms could include rest, ice, stretching and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. Education in how to protect your joints is helpful if you have osteoarthritis. When the spur is in the foot, changing footwear or adding an orthotic may help. If the spur is causing corns or calluses, padding the area or wearing different shoes can help. A podiatrist is the best trained in helping your bone spur and may also recommend a cortisone injection to reduce pain and inflammation of the tissues near the spur.
Bone spurs can be surgically removed or treated as part of a surgery to repair or replace a joint when osteoarthritis has caused considerable damage and deformity. Examples might include repair of a bunion or heel spur in the foot.
If you believe have a foot problem and do not currently see a podiatrist, call one of our six locations to make an appointment.
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