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The most common symptoms of a bone spur on the elbow are pain, locking of the joint, and a loss of motion of the elbow. Bone spurs are most common in patients who are afflicted with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the bone. Many individuals experience no symptoms from a bone spur, unless it reaches a certain size or forms near a tendon or ligament.
Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are bony overgrowths that form in some joints of the body. They are caused by constant stress to the bone, such as overuse of the elbow, or as a result of disease, such as osteoarthritis or bursitis. Trauma to the elbow can also cause a spur to form.
The most common cause of a bone spur on the elbow is osteoarthritis. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that protects and surrounds the bone wears away, causing the bones to rub together or stick out. If there is trauma to the bones of the elbow, the healing process may over-compensate and create build-up of calcium, which in turn creates a bone spur.
If there is pain as a result of a spur, it typically means the area of overgrowth is large enough that it places pressure on surrounding tissue, compresses a nerve, or grates against another bone. In addition to pain, there may be swelling, redness, and inflammation. If the bone spur comes loose, it may lodge in the joint and lock the elbow temporarily until it is dislodged again.
Much of the time, bone spurs are symptomless, especially in their early stages. They are often found only as a result of an X-ray or other test looking for another problem. Bone spurs are typically not treated if that is the case. If there are any symptoms, such as pain, loss of motion, or locking of the joint, then surgery may have to be performed. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs will often be given first to see if they reduce any pain or swelling.
The surgery for a bone spur on the elbow is usually a last resort since most symptoms can be managed with medications. In the case of osteoarthritis, or any other disease that can lead to bone spurs, the underlying cause must be addressed so that no additional spurs appear.