Bone spurs or osteophytes are fibrocartilage-capped, smooth bony growths that are usually formed close to joints. They are often an attribute of osteoarthritis, a condition which causes joints to become stiff and painful. Osteophytes can grow from any bone, but they are mainly found in weight-bearing joints such as, the spine (e.g., neck, lower back), shoulder, knee, fingers, big toe, foot and heel.
Essentially, osteophytes are a sign that there are persisting increased forces (more than what the joint can normally bear) on an affected joint. Due to the excessive forces, the joint may begin to become unstable. The body then remodels bone to decrease the stress subjected to the joints or to increase surface area to prevent instability.
Osteophytes and other degenerative changes are common in the ageing process. The presence of osteophytes does not necessarily mean that they are the direct cause of pain. Nevertheless, they are often related with common degenerative conditions.
Generally, degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis which becomes more common with ageing is the main cause of osteophyte formation. However, osteoarthritis may also develop in younger people if their joint has been overused or overloaded persistently for a prolonged period of time.
Other diseases that are susceptible to the formation of osteophytes include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Erosive arthritis
- Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH)