Bone spurs are small, bony growths that deposit on top of “normal” bone. One thing about them you might not realize: they are one of the body’s peculiar methods of protecting itself from damage. Spurs grow in spaces where the soft tissue has been inflamed, torn, or depleted over time.
Heel spurs, notably, are usually the result of plantar fasciitis. As the inflamed plantar fascia “pulls away” from the bottom of the heel, bony material deposits on the front of the bone. Elsewhere, bone spurs commonly form in joints where the cartilage has worn down from arthritis.
But hey, an explanation of what bone spurs are isn’t why you clicked on this blog. The more pressing question is: how should bone spurs be treated?
The short answer is, it depends.
The longer answer?
Actually, most bone spurs don’t need treatment at all. Although the word “spur” might make you recoil at the thought of painful jabbing, most bone spurs are painless and symptomless. In most cases, you won’t even realize you have a spur until they show up on an X-ray for an unrelated problem. A symptomless spur is no problem at all, and can be confidently ignored.
However, occasionally a bone spur does get in the way. Located in a certain part of a joint, a spur could make it painful or difficult to move or extend a toe or an ankle. Other spurs might put painful pressure on a nearby nerve or connective tissues, or maybe on the skin, where the spur can cause chronic corns or calluses.
Spurs that simply cause pain when standing (but don’t otherwise restrict your motion or activities) can often be managed through conservative remedies. Arch supports or orthotics make a great choice here. We might also recommend treatments such as stretching, changing footwear, or over-the-counter medications.
If conservative treatments don’t work, or if the spur is causing more significant pain or motion restriction, it may be necessary to remove the spur surgically. This could be done as its own procedure, or in combination with a related surgery (rearfoot reconstruction, bunion correction, joint replacement, etc.).