Question: What Are Osteophytes (Bone Spurs)?
What are osteophytes? What causes an osteophyte to develop? Can they develop in any joint? Are osteophytes more common in certain joints or with certain types of arthritis? How are osteophytes diagnosed and treated?
Answer: Osteophytes, protrusions of bone and cartilage, are also referred to as bone spurs. They commonly develop in joints that show signs of degeneration. For example, they are associated with the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis. Osteophytes typically develop as a reparative response by the remaining cartilage in a damaged joint.
Osteophytes may also develop from the tissue that lines the bone or joint and occur in any number of locations. Marginal osteophytes can develop at the periphery or margins of all joints. Central osteophytes are most prominent in the hip and knee.
Osteophytes can be diagnosed by a clinical exam of the PIP (proximal interphalangeal joint), DIP (distal interphalangeal joint), and first CMC joints (carpometacarpal joint) of the hand. Osteophytes also can be diagnosed using imaging studies, such as x-rays. If x-rays were performed on everyone over 50 years of age, most would show some evidence of osteophytes. Yet, most people with osteophytes are asymptomatic (i.e., do not have symptoms).
Treatment of Osteophytes
If symptomatic, treatment of osteophytes typically includes:
- Physical therapy
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Analgesics (painkillers)
- Surgery (an option in severe cases)
Dr. Zashin is clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle Of TNF Blockers. The book is useful for anyone on one of the biologic drugs or considering the biologic drugs.