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What is an Osteophyte?

By Alex Terris
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An osteophyte, sometimes known as a bone spur, is a small bone prominence that can occur on the joints of the body. The cause of osteophytes depends on the exact condition but are often the result of arthritis or other diseases including bone infections. Although some bone spurs form naturally many will limit the movement of a joint and also cause pain to the patient. In many joints the formation of a bone spur signifies the degeneration of that area of the body.

The reason that bone spurs initially form is that a joint is being put under more pressure than it can cope with. When the body realizes that a joint is becoming damaged, often by conditions such as arthritis, then it attempts to increase the surface area of the joint by using a bone spur. Unfortunately, this can cause additional pain and may limit the movement of the joint. Due to bone spurs being caused by degenerative diseases, they are often used as a metric to discover the severity of a person’s condition.

There are two main types of osteophyte. The first is the marginal type and these can develop on the edge of every joint in the body. A central osteophyte usually occurs in the knee or hip although they have been known to form elsewhere. The spurs form from tissue around the edge of the joint. Usually a bone spur will form due to damage that occurs due to inflammation, although the spurs can also come from damage at ligament or tendon attachment points.

Diagnosing a bone spur is usually a straightforward process. A simple X-ray will often show the location of the spurs. Sometimes a clinical assessment is all that’s needed. Although bone spurs can be a major problem, they are present in most people over the age of 50, although not all cases will cause complications or pain.

The treatment for an osteophyte depends on the severity of the individual’s condition. In mild cases physical therapy and painkillers will often be used to help control the problem and reduce pain. In the worst cases surgery may be required in order to fix the spur although this isn’t usually necessary. Sometimes certain supplements may be used in order to help the condition.

Bone spurs form in the back naturally as a person gets older. It is possible to tell how much the spine has degenerated by looking at the number of bone spurs. Often the spurs are the symptoms of a more serious underlying condition.

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Discussion Comments
By pastanaga — On May 12, 2013

@pleonasm - The problem is that a lot of people won't go to the doctor until it becomes a bigger problem than it has to be. I think osteophytes on the spine are fairly common and people just assume it's back pain and they have to wait it out, rather than trying to get it fixed.

By pleonasm — On May 11, 2013

@indigomoth - Unfortunately, just like people, some animals have a genetic predisposition. It's a good idea to do research on the breed and also try to find reputable breeders when you're getting an animal (or alternatively, go to the shelters and give someone a home).

With people, you notice the pain and you can talk about it and go to the doctor to get it fixed. Osteophyte treatment doesn't have to be a big deal if it's caught before it does any damage.

Unfortunately, with animals, they have no way of telling us what the matter is.

By indigomoth — On May 10, 2013

My cat grew a bone spur on her spine which eventually hurt one of her nerves so she wasn't able to walk properly. It was really sad, because we had no idea that it was happening.

Apparently some breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to having this kind of disorder and you really need to keep a sharp eye on them to make sure they aren't behaving strangely or moving differently.

Our cat never seemed to be in pain or anything and we only noticed it once she starting limping, but even then we thought she had just pulled a muscle or something. By the time we took her to the vet it was already too late.

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