Do Bone Spurs Go Away? What Happens if Bone Spurs Go Untreated 

Person holding knee in pain

As people age and experience wear and tear on their bodies, their bones and joints can wear down over time. When that happens, bone spurs can form along the edges of the bone or in joint spaces, and if untreated, can lead to further complications. Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) is a multi-specialty medical provider for patients in northern New Jersey with brain, nerve, and spine conditions. Here, the CNSO team discusses bone spurs, whether bone spurs go away on their own, and what can happen if they are not treated.

What Are Bone Spurs?

Bone spurs (osteophytes) are smooth, bony growths that form on the edge of a bone or within joint spaces, typically from aging, repetitive movements, or major trauma. They are most common on the bones in the spine and the joints of the hips and knees.

Most people with bone spurs do not even know they have them until they are seen on an X-ray ordered for another reason. However, in some people, bone spurs can lead to painful and uncomfortable symptoms. The spurs themselves do not cause pain, but they can grow and press on surrounding structures like nerves and tissues, leading to pain and discomfort.

Signs and Symptoms of Bone Spurs

The symptoms experienced with bone spurs (if any) will depend on whether they are pressing on nearby structures and how much. General symptoms include pain that can be burning or tingling, stiffness, weakness, and loss of flexibility and range of motion. More specific symptoms will depend on where the bone spurs are located. The most common areas and related symptoms are:

  • Shoulder:These can damage the impinged tissues, which may result in tears to the rotator cuff and loss of movement.
  • Knee: These can cause difficulty with walking, as well as extendingand bending the leg.
  • Hip:These can cause problems with walking, rising from a sitting position, and stepping.
  • Spine:These can cause neck and back pain, numbness or tingling in limbs, loss of coordination, muscle spasms, and other neurological symptoms.

The symptoms often increase with activity and decrease with plenty of rest. To diagnose bone spurs, the doctor will review the patient’s medical history, perform a physical exam, and take imaging scans like X-rays or CT scans.

Bone Spur Causes and Risk Factors

Bone spurs are mainly caused by joint damage from osteoarthritis, a common condition in middle-aged patients. However, other risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing bone spurs, including:

  • Age: Bone spurs are most common in people ages 60 and older because of the wear and tear of joints and muscles during aging.
  • Genetics: Patients with a genetic predisposition to early degenerative changes can lead to higher chances of developing bone spurs.
  • Previous injuries: People with previous injuries from sports or motor vehicle accidentscan have an increased risk of having bone spurs.
  • Medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions like arthritis, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or disc disordersare more likely to develop bone spurs.

Although these risk factors can increase the chances of a person getting bone spurs, it does not mean that everyone with these factors will get them.

Treatments for Bone Spurs

Bone spurs only need treatment if they are compressing surrounding structures and causing bothersome symptoms. There are many treatment methods for bone spurs, ranging from conservative to more invasive, depending on the severity of the symptoms. For patients with mild to moderate pain from bone spurs, physicians may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs to reduce inflammation
  • Steroid injectionsto help reduce pain and swelling
  • Physical therapyto restore range of motion and strength

If conservative treatment methods are not sufficient to relieve pain and stiffness, a more invasive treatment like spine surgery may be needed to remove bone spurs. The most common surgical procedure to do this is a laminectomy.

At Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, the team takes a conservative approach to care, offering patients pain management and physical therapy treatments before considering invasive methods like surgery.

What Can Happen If Bone Spurs Are Not Treated?

Sometimes, people have symptoms of bone spurs but do not get them treated due to financial problems or other reasons. Particularly when a patient has bone spurs on the spine, ignoring them can lead to more serious complications since bone spurs do not go away on their own. As the bone spurs grow larger, they can press on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in:

  • Ongoing pain in surrounding tissue
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Sciatica, or pain and tingling that radiates down the leg
  • Severe muscle weakness
  • Neurological problems
  • Loss of function

It is best for patients experiencing noticeable symptoms of bone spurs to make an appointment with their doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Request an Appointment for Bone Spur Treatment

Patients with bone spur symptoms should see a trusted medical provider like Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, with a dedicated medical staff complete with neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists. To see an orthopedic specialist about bone spur treatment, contact us today to request an appointment at one of CNSO’s multiple office locations throughout northern New Jersey.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics