Osteoarthritis is a specific type of arthritis that is caused by wear on the joints. Osteoarthritis usually affects people who are middle-aged and older because it's caused by the overall wear and tear of joints that usually happens with age. It affects the joints, cartilage, ligaments, joint linings and bone itself.
Osteophytosis, also called bone spurs and osteophytic growths, is a condition that is most often a side effect of osteoarthritis. As the body attempts to repair any damage that's affected the joints, new bone can form in inappropriate ways and places, which leads to osteophytosis.
Definition of Osteophytosis
The literal definition of osteophytosis is the formation of osteophytic growths around the joints. Osteophytes, or bone spurs, are bony growths that extend off of the bone itself, and they are most commonly found around joints in the following areas:
- Knuckles and joints of the hands
- Heel of the foot
As mentioned earlier, osteophytes commonly form as a result of osteoarthritis. However, they can also form as the result of injuries, accidents, overuse of joints and more.
Joints with arthritis, or ones that are damaged, often have little to no cartilage. Cartilage is a tissue that's usually present between bones (a.k.a. at joints) that works to protect the bones from rubbing against each other and to cushion certain areas from impact, damage and other problems.
When that cartilage wears down, the body attempts to repair it. However, in doing so, it ends up forming new bone where the cartilage once was, which results in the formation of bone spurs at the joints. This can also happen in the spinal cord when the cushioning discs between the vertebrae wear down.
What causes the joint wear and osteoarthritis in the first place? The most common cause is aging. As we get older, our cartilage wears down.
Along with age, you're at a greater risk for bone spurs if:
- You have a family member with osteoarthritis and/or osteophytosis.
- You're involved in sports that use/overuse certain joints.
- Have been in an accident/experienced a sports-related injury.
- Have structural abnormalities in your bones (for example, scoliosis).
Most individuals with bones spurs have no obvious symptoms. Bone spurs in the shoulder and knees, for example, can often only be seen via an x-ray or another type of imaging, and they don't always cause pain or discomfort. Sometimes you can visually see the bone spurs on the joints. This is why some elderly people appear to have "knobby" or "knotted" fingers.
Depending on where the bone spurs form, you could experience inflammation and pain. When they form on the heels, shoulder, knees, hips and/or spine, pain is a common symptom.
Osteophytic growths in the spine can be particularly painful because they can grow inward and make contact with the spinal cord. When this happens, you could experience inflammation and nerve pain. It can also cause muscle spasms, incontinence, numbness and tingling, depending on where the growth is along the spine.
Bone spurs in the knees, hips and shoulders may also limit your range of movement since the new bone formation will interfere with natural movement of the joints. Those with spurs in the knees often find they cannot fully extend their leg and spurs in the should limit full arm rotation. Spurs in the hips severely limit movement walking, turning and twisting and can also make everyday activities involving movement painful.
If the growths are only causing mild discomfort and/or inflammation, you may be prescribed a simple painkiller and anti-inflammatory medication to deal with your symptoms.
You can also get shoe inserts, special seating cushions and what are called "bone spur pads" in order to mitigate any symptoms you may experience. Physical therapy is also helpful in order to regain full range of motion in certain joints.
However, if the pain is severe or you're having issues with nerve damage, then you may require surgery to remove the bone spur.
About the Author
Elliot Walsh holds a B.S in Cell and Developmental Biology and a B.A in English Literature from the University of Rochester. He's worked in multiple academic research labs, at a pharmaceutical company, as a TA for chemistry, and as a tutor in STEM subjects. He's currently working full-time as a content writer and editor.