How to Treat a Bone Spur in Your Knee, According to Physical Therapists

Learn more about the causes and symptoms of a bone spur in your knee and how to treat it, especially with exercises from physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 28, 2024
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Odds are, you’ve heard of a heel spur or bone spur at some point, whether you’ve experienced one or not. But have you ever heard of a knee bone spur? Yes, it’s a thing and can happen when extra bone accumulates in the knee joint, causing pressure and inflammation. 

Bone spurs in the knees are a relatively common contributor to knee pain with movement, like walking, standing, and bending. While bone spurs don’t always lead to pain, they can interfere with your mobility, disrupting your day-to-day routines. Uncomfortable as they can be, however, knee bone spurs are often very manageable with conservative, at-home treatments. 

Read on to learn more about what causes knee bone spurs, along with how to treat them — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.

What Is a Knee Bone Spur?

A bone spur, or osteophyte, is a bony growth that forms on bones, often in response to prolonged pressure, rubbing, or stress. This overgrowth of bone usually occurs on the edges of a bone near a joint and develops gradually over time. 

Bone spurs are more common with age. They can form anywhere in the body, but they’re most likely found in areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bone, and are most frequently found in the spine, shoulders, hands, hips, knees, and feet. Bone spurs are often a side effect of other conditions, like osteoarthritis and tendinitis, in which new bone growth can occur in response to increased stress on the bone. 

“If you don’t have enough cartilage in your knee, which is the case with knee arthritis, the joint can start to get irritated, and your body may respond by producing more bone growth to protect the joint,” says Sarah Kellen, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

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Symptoms of a Bone Spur in the Knee

A bone spur in the knee doesn’t always cause symptoms — you can have one and not even know it. If you do develop symptoms, some typical signs of a knee bone spur, according to Dr. Kellen, may include: 

  • A visible bump around the knee

  • Swelling around the knee

  • Knee pain with movement, especially bending and straightening

  • Decreased range of motion 

  • Weakness or instability in the knee

  • An audible clicking or locking sound in the affected knee 

Remember: Knee bone spurs may not result in any symptoms, and they may only be found when you get an X-ray for something unrelated. Either way, any symptoms you do experience are usually manageable with conservative interventions.

Causes of Bone Spurs in the Knee

Your body naturally develops more bone when you experience an injury or condition that affects your bone health. When your body creates too much bone, you can develop a bone spur. In the knee, Dr. Kellen explains, this usually happens with a loss of cartilage, which adds pressure and inflammation to the joint. 

Cartilage loss in the knee can happen in a few specific scenarios, including normal wear and knee injuries

  • Knee osteoarthritis, which is common with age. 

  • Repetitive use of the knee that leads to changes and loss of cartilage. 

  • ACL injuries, which occur when the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — a fibrous band of tissue in the knee joint that connects the thigh bone to the shinbone — is sprained or torn.

  • Meniscus tears, which results if there’s a tear in the rubbery C-shaped disc of cartilage that helps to cushion knee joints. 

  • Kneecap (patellar) dislocations, which can occur during an accident or collision in everyday life or, more commonly, during sports.

Treatment Options for a Knee Bone Spur

Bone spurs, if they don’t cause any impairing symptoms, often don’t need treatment. If your knee bone spur is bothersome, conservative interventions can usually help manage the pain. 

The following tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists and medical doctors can provide relief for pain from a knee bone spur:

  • Apply ice or heat. Ice can help reduce swelling in the area, and heat can increase blood flow and help manage knee pain. “Either one can help with knee bone spur pain, so focus on what feels good to you,” says Dr. Kellen. 

  • Consider over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for knee pain resulting from a bone spur. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

  • Massage. Gently massaging the area around the knee bone spur can help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling by increasing circulation to the area. 

  • Try different shoes. There’s no perfect shoe that’s right for everyone, but depending on your gait and foot mechanics, a change in footwear might be helpful, says Dr. Kellen. “For example, if someone overpronates, this can cause more strain at the medial (inner) knee and possibly increase the risk of a knee bone spur there,” she says. Generally, wearing supportive shoes can help reduce strain on the knee joint.

  • Keep moving your body. It may be tempting to take a break from physical activity if it causes pain, but Dr. Kellen emphasizes exercise — especially exercises recommended by a physical therapist (like the ones below) — is important for strengthening all the muscles that support your knee and reducing pressure on the joint. As you heal from bone spur pain, taking frequent breaks during activity, such as yardwork, can help reduce inflammation and swelling.  

In some cases, a medical provider may recommend other interventions, such as injections. In the most extreme knee bone spur cases, surgery or joint replacement might be necessary to reduce pain and improve day-to-day functioning.

PT-Recommended Exercises for Knee Bone Spurs

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  • Hamstring Stretch
  • Quad Stretch
  • Knee Extension
  • Hamstring Curl
  • Bridge

With knee bone spurs, the goal is to regain range of motion and reduce pain. It’s important to strengthen the surrounding muscles; doing so can help relieve pressure in the knee and prevent pain when you move. Strengthening exercises can also prevent further loss of cartilage in the knee. The above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Strengthen Your Other Muscles

When you’re managing knee bone spur pain, it’s important to exercise muscles surrounding your knees. “The more we strengthen above and below the knees, the more pressure we take off the joint to reduce pain,” says Dr. Kellen. Outside of PT exercises, she recommends low-impact activities like swimming or biking, which can also improve strength without further irritating the knee joint.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Bone Spur. (n.d.). Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Retrieved from https://www.columbiadoctors.org/health-library/condition/bone-spur/

  2. Mulcahey, M. K. (2022, February). Common Knee Injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://www.orthoinfo.org/en/diseases--conditions/common-knee-injuries/ 

  3. Wong, S. H. J., Chiu, K. Y., & Yan, C. H. (2016). Review Article: Osteophytes. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery, 24(3), 403–410. doi:10.1177/1602400327

  4. Sheth, N. P. (2022, April). Osteoarthritis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://www.orthoinfo.org/en/diseases--conditions/osteoarthritis/