Osteophytes is the medical name for the overgrowth of bone tissue more commonly called "bone spurs." Despite the term "spurs," they are actually small round lumps of extra bone that grow around joints. Osteophytes are the body’s attempt to compensate for existing bone and ligament degeneration due to age or injury. Unfortunately, the body’s attempt to heal itself this way is unsuccessful.
Bone spurs are formed by the body for the purpose of limiting or stopping motion in a deteriorating joint that becomes too loose. Since degenerative joint conditions are characteristic of athletes and the aged, osteophytes are common in those with sports related injuries or arthritis. In fact, they often cause arthritis, as well as a condition called spinal stenosis. Other factors in the development of spurs include bone deformations, fractures, hereditary factors and poor posture.
Osteophytes are most often found along the spine, but they may be present on any bone in the body. Though not a source of pain themselves, they may create pressure on any of the nerves that branch out from the spinal column to result in painful and sometimes debilitating medical conditions. In many cases, a person with bone spurs may never suffer any symptoms.
When symptoms do exist, they are usually due to pressure on any number of nerves in the body. Tingling or numbing sensations in the arms, hands, legs or feet can signify the presence of osteophytes along the spine. It is also common to experience muscle cramping, spasms or weakness. Depending on the size and location of the spurs, it is possible for sufferers to lose the ability to move part of their body. When they are present on the upper part of the vertebrae in the neck region, symptoms can include headaches, dizziness and general neck pain.
The symptoms that result from osteophytes are also characteristic of other medical problems. To be certain that they are in fact caused by bone spurs, a medical professional will perform x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans and electroconductive tests to assess nerve function. Treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications such as cortisone, rest, physical therapy and, in severe cases, surgery.