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Bone spurs (occasionally known by the fancy Greek synonym osteophyte), are extraneous bony growths which form on normal bone in response to repeated wear and tear. Although the word "spur" typically connotes a sharp object, bone spurs are actually usually smooth and rounded (although in rarer cases they can take all kinds of weird shapes).

Cause and Effects

Bone spurs form in response to repetitive injury, as the bone tries to heal itself but gets a bit overzealous, so to speak. However bone spurs themselves can cause additional pain and injury by impinging on or tearing surrounding soft tissue such as ligaments, muscles, and nerves.

Distribution and Symptoms

Bone spurs are a natural response to everyday wear and tear on the body, so most people have bone spurs somewhere. However, many people never even know they have bone spurs because the spurs do not cause them any pain. However, larger bone spurs or spurs which keep growing due to repeated injury to and healing by the bone, eventually start rubbing against and breaking down the tissue around them, causing pain, swelling, and numbness if they impinge on a nerve. Sometimes as part of this process, bone spurs erode and break loose, floating around in joints and becoming painfully lodged in places they don't belong.

Bone spurs occur most frequently in joints such as the elbow and shoulder (in athletes such as baseball and tennis players) or the knee and the ankle (most typically in basketball players). They also are extremely common on the heel of the foot (in runners and dancers) or on the back of the heel in people who wear tight-fitting shoes (this is sometimes jokingly called the "pump bump," since it is often found in women who wear high heels). Bone spurs occur most frequently of all in the spine, as a normal part of the aging process.

Treatment

Bone spurs do not require treatment unless they are causing pain or tissue damage. In the case of pain, a variety of simple remedies can be applied, such as administration of pain-killers, weight-loss programs to take stress off joints and feet, physical therapy and massage, changing to different footwear, and rest and cessation of the injurious sport or activity.

However, if the pain is extremely severe or damage is occurring to surrounding tissue, bone spurs can be treated directly with (usually arthroscopic) surgery, in which the spurs can be shaved down mechanically and loose bone fragments can be located and removed.

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