We first realized that the term bone spur might sound scary when an elderly patient reacted to the diagnosis with alarm. « My goodness, Doctor! » she exclaimed. « Is it going to poke right through my skin? ».
Maybe the down-home term for bone spurs (osteophytes) should be bone bumps because there’s nothing scary about them. These bony growths are a natural aspect of aging. Osteophytes can cause a problem if they start to impinge or pinch a nerve, or rub against a shoe and cause irritation. Our clinical team (DeSoto, Sunnyvale or Dallas) can tell you if this is the case.
A bone spur is just extra bone that may result from the body’s repair process. As we age, the cartilage that lines and cushions the joints starts to wear away. This is called osteoarthritis.
Humans have suffered from arthritis since Biblical days. In some cases, bone spurs start to form along the edges of the joint, like mountains pushing up at the junction of two tectonic plates. Bone spurs due to aging are especially common in the feet and spine.
Arthritis is not the only cause of bone spurs. Some other common reasons include:
- Tight ligaments, or activities such as dancing or running that impose repetitive stress on the feet
- Being overweight
- Wearing ill-fitting footwear
- Suffering from an inflamed plantar fascii that pulls the long ligament on the bottom of the foot
- Pressure at the back of the heel from wearing shoes that are too tight
Many people aren’t even aware that they have a bone spur. But if the bone spur starts rubbing against something or pressing against a muscle or tendon, you will notice some discomfort.
What’s This Funny Bump, Doctor?
Most people first notice a bone spur when they’re washing their feet or pulling on socks. For others, an osteophyte is found after they’ve already been diagnosed with another foot condition such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, or calluses. Bone spurs tend to appear in the back of the heel bone, or around the metatarsal bones. Almost all of these bone spurs are related to some type of arthritic reaction, or a bone that was inflamed due to an injury to adjacent tissue.
Once you’ve got a bone spur, it will not go away by itself. If there is heel pain, it’s necessary to figure out what is causing it. In the case of plantar fasciitis, the sooner treatment begins, the better. If a heel spur is caused by an inflamed Achilles tendon, we treat that as well at our DeSoto, Dallas and Sunnyvale clinics. If it’s arthritis, there are treatments to relieve inflammation and make you more comfortable.
We can confirm the diagnose with x-rays, ultrasound imaging, CT scan, MRI or myelogram. Often we note the presence of a bone spur while we are reading imaging tests that were ordered for a different reason.
If you begin to feel weakness, tingling or numbness in the area, it’s possible that the bone spur is imposing on a nerve. Pain while walking could be a sign that a bone spur is pressing on a muscle, tendon or other structure.
While bone spurs cause no pain by themselves, their presence can interfere with the functions of adjacent areas of the foot. For that reason, we like to keep an eye on them.
Surgery Is Another Option
Most osteophytes can be treated conservatively with thick soles and cushioning to relieve pressure on the heel and foot. It’s best to address the underlying cause of the bone spur, whether it is excess weight, arthritis or footwear that doesn’t fit properly. Some patients may benefit from a corticosteroid injection to reduce pain and inflammation.
Bone spurs can be removed surgically if they are causing a great deal of discomfort and they start to interfere with the patient’s lifestyle. In these cases, our surgeon may remove or repair a bunion or heel spur.
Our medical team will first try to address the underlying condition with the objective of relieving symptoms. Heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure can hamper a surgical outcome and recovery, which is why your doctor will ask about your medical history.
Still, the point is that there’s nothing scary about a bone spur— as long as it’s not causing problems by its physical presence.
If a bone spur is giving you problems, call one of our clinics in Dallas, DeSoto and Sunnyvale and ask for a medical evaluation.