Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, can occur anywhere in the skeletal system, but are common in the foot. A bone spur on the toe or heel may be caused by damage or trauma to the surrounding ligaments or cartilage or a natural result of aging and use. They can be caused by excessive growth of bone, usually at a joint where two bones meet. Pain in the affected area, swelling or tenderness to the touch may be symptomatic of toe bone spurs.
Bone spurs can occur on any toe, but are most common on the fifth toe. In many cases, a bone spur on the toe may be present without any symptoms. In some cases, pain in the affected area does occur. The pain that occurs with osteophytes is not caused by the “spur” itself, but results from friction against another bone, nerve, or soft tissue. In rarer cases, a bone spur may break off, lodge between a joint and effectively cause immobility of the joint.
Pain and inflammation in any toe can be the result of many different conditions. For example, arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, can cause similar pain. For a doctor to be certain that a bone spur has formed, an x-ray or other imaging test will need to be performed. These tests are often performed when a patient presents with pain in a specific area and no other known causes exist. Confirmation of a bone spur can result in different treatment options.
Treatment options for a bone spur on the toe may range from anti-inflammatory drug therapy, physical therapy, and temporary immobility with a special boot or foot brace. If a combination of these actions does not yield results, surgery may be required in cases where pain is chronic or severe or if imaging tests show damage to surrounding nerves, ligaments, or tendons. Surgery for a toe bone spur is usually simple and may require smoothing the spur with a surgical buffer and removal of all or part of the toe nail.
In many cases, a bone spur on the toe is not evident by any symptoms. If there is little or no pain, there may be nothing that needs to be done aside from temporarily resting the foot by limiting physical activity. Wearing comfortable, properly fitting shoes that do not scrunch the toes can also help relieve minor discomfort caused by bone spurs.