Causes and Treatment of Bone Spurs in Feet

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A bone spur—or osteophyte—is an abnormal growth of bone that develops when the body tries to repair a problem. Bone spurs can occur in any bone but happen most frequently in high-impact areas like the feet.

As the cartilage wears down, the bone is remodeled to compensate for the growing amounts of physiological stress placed on the area. The initial bone remodeling reduces the concentration of stress in the area and makes the stress transfer from one tissue to the other as smooth as possible.

As the bone spur grows, it may irritate surrounding tissues causing pain and inflammation.

foot being examined at the doctor

Pornpak Khunatorn / Getty Images

Causes of Bone Spurs in Feet

Any situation that creates too much friction within the foot can lead to bone spurs. In fact, if you have arches that are higher or lower than normal, you may be at higher risk of developing bone spurs—especially if you are a runner or you frequently wear tight shoes.

Bone spurs typically develop when pressure or stress is applied to a bone regularly for a long period of time. Over time, the cartilage that protects the bone may be destroyed. In response, your body attempts to repair the damage by creating new bone in the damaged area.

Calcium, the main component of bone, can grow to help pad the affected area. This growth is referred to as a bone spur and may be more harmful than helpful.

Different Types of Bone Spurs in Feet

Bone spurs that grow out of one of the joints on the top of the midfoot are called tarsal spurs, whereas bone spurs that grow on the inside or outside of the toe are referred to as toe spurs.

Bone spurs of the foot are more likely to form if you have a condition that causes local inflammation such as degenerative arthritis or tendonitis. These conditions tend to be more prevalent as you age. The inflammatory reaction that occurs when damage occurs to the cartilage or tendons of the foot leads to bone remodeling and the formation of bony outgrowths.

Other risk factors for bone spurs in the foot include:

  • Wearing tight shoes, especially ones that pinch the toes or squeeze the midfoot
  • Infections
  • Older age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Tight Achilles tendon
  • Chronic plantar fasciitis
  • Charcot foot, a condition that causes weakness in the bones of the foot due to nerve damage (may or may not be due to diabetes)

Signs of Bone Spurs in Feet

Pain in the foot is the most common initial sign of a bone spur in the foot, but symptoms vary based on the location and size of the bone spur.

Toes

A small deformity or bump can start to form over the top of the toes along the joints. A bone spur can also limit the mobility of the affected toe leading to a stiff big toe, or hallux rigidus, making it difficult to walk.

Symptoms of hallux rigidus include:

  • Pain in the joint when you are active, especially as you push off on the toes when you walk
  • Swelling around the joint
  • A bump, like a bunion or a callus, that develops on the top of the foot
  • Stiffness in the great toe and an inability to bend it up or down

Midfoot

A bone spur that develops in the midfoot is called a tarsal boss, and it likely results from:

Bone spurs in the midfoot usually form on top of the foot, and some can be seen as lumps or calluses. This bony outgrowth can become painful when it is inflamed or rubs on surrounding neurovascular structures in the foot.

Heel

Heel spurs occur on the underside of the foot and may feel like a dull ache or sharp pain when walking or standing for long periods of time. Sometimes the discomfort from a heel spur may cause you to change your gait, potentially exacerbating structural issues in the foot.

Risk factors for heel spurs include:

  • Being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • History of wearing poorly fitting footwear
  • History of a foot injury

Diagnosis

Most bone spurs in the feet are painless and found accidentally when looking at other conditions. If you report pain in your foot, your doctor—usually a family doctor, podiatrist, or orthopedic surgeon—will suggest getting an X-ray.

A proper diagnosis is made based on your clinical symptoms and imaging. Bone spurs are detected by radiologic testing such as:

  • Plain X-rays
  • Ultrasound imaging
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Myelograms

X-rays are the most commonly used imaging tool to detect bone spurs. Additional imaging may be needed if the X-ray is inconclusive or indicates more damage than anticipated.

Treatment

Treatment of your bone spurs will depend on the size and location of—and the symptoms caused by—the bone spur. If you have a painless lump on your foot that is diagnosed as a bone spur, your bone spur can usually go untreated.

Weight loss can help reduce the pressure on your foot and bone spur and relieve or eliminate your discomfort.

Common treatments for bone spurs include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication: Since foot pain is the most common symptom of a bone spur, OTC anti-inflammatory medication is often the first line of treatment for pain and inflammation.
  • Rest and ice: This may also help with any pain and inflammation.
  • Cortisone infection: If OTC medications and rest and ice don't work to help alleviate pain and inflammation, a cortisone injection may help. 
  • Physical therapy: This can help strengthen the muscles and tendons around the weakened area and increase motion in the joints. Stretching and the use of special pads or orthotics may also help to take the pressure off of the bone spur.

If conservative measures don’t relieve your pain or clinical imaging finds that your bone spur is damaging your joint or the joint space, surgery may be suggested. Depending on the extent of your injury, surgery can range from simple removal of the bone spur (cheilectomy), which can be done in a matter of minutes, to complete replacement of the joint, to arthroplasty.

Your orthopedic surgeon may remove bone spurs as part of another surgery like bunion surgery if they believe the bone spur is contributing to your pain. This possibility should be discussed with you prior to surgery.

Complications

Untreated bone spurs in the foot can damage the joint and tissues that surround the joint space. To avoid surgery, it is best to use OTC anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the inflammation. It is also important to figure out the underlying cause of your foot pain. Treating the underlying causes of your bone spur can help limit further damage and bone spur formation.

It is very important to take care of a painful bone spur as soon as you are able to. Allowing the spur to stay—or get worse—could lead to permanent weakness or deformity, especially if the bump compresses surrounding neurovascular structures.

A Word From VeryWell

Bone spurs can be extremely painful and limit your mobility or affect your daily life. Early treatment can prevent this from being the case. Most bone spurs can be managed with conservative measures like rest, ice, orthotics, physical therapy, and the use of anti-inflammatory medication.

If you are feeling pain in your foot and think you might have a bone spur, call a health care professional to avoid serious complications.

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