If you suffer from heel pain, you may have a heel spur. Also called calcaneal spurs after the calcaneal bone at the back of the foot, heel spurs are bony growths. The calcium buildups extend from the bottom of the heel bone. Think of the spiky spurs on the back of some cowboy boots. Heel spurs are a less dramatic version of that, and they tend to extend downward rather than backward. In fact, some heel spurs can curve forward like a hooked claw.
By seeking early intervention from a skilled podiatrist, people with heel spurs can reduce pain, prevent future complications, and regain their mobility. Keep reading to learn more about the causes and symptoms of heel spurs, plus available treatments.
What Are Heel Spurs?
The bony growth that characterizes heel spurs can vary in size and shape. Often, it’s not the bony protrusion itself that is painful—it’s the effect the calcium deposit has on the soft tissue around it. Occasionally, a heel spur can extend forward by as much as half an inch. Without X-ray confirmation, the condition is sometimes called heel spur syndrome.
Heel spurs often happen alongside plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is the thick band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot. It connects the heel bone to the base of the toes. Plantar fasciitis is severe inflammation of this tissue. With chronic inflammation, a calcium deposit can form where the plantar fascia reaches the heel bone. This is a heel spur.
Common Causes of Heel Spurs
The most common cause of heel spurs is chronic strain on the soft tissues in the foot. The muscles and ligaments in the foot are stretched and stressed. Over time, this degrades and tears the membrane covering the heel bone. Heel spurs are especially common among athletes who run on hard surfaces. The condition doesn’t arise overnight; it develops over several months, getting progressively worse.
Other risk factors associated with heel spurs include:
- Biomechanical imbalances in the feet
- Gait abnormalities that place extra stress on the heel bone
- Overly worn or poorly fitted shoes lacking arch support
- Being overweight or obese
- High foot arches
- Flat feet
- Older age
- Reduced flexibility in the plantar fascia
- Frequent weight-bearing activity
- Spending all day on your feet
Symptoms of Heel Spurs
Some heel spurs can be painless. But, the most common symptom of heel spurs is heel pain. This is partly because plantar fasciitis and heel spurs often occur together. They contribute to acute and chronic pain in the heel and the bottom of the foot.
The sharp pain can sometimes feel like something is poking at the bottom of your foot. This can happen when someone first gets up in the morning. Or, it can happen when someone stands up after a period of inactivity. The sharp pain can subside or turn into a dull ache after walking around for a while. Other symptoms include redness, swelling, and joint stiffness.
The bony protrusions can affect mobility too. They can make walking feel like a burden. This can severely impact a person’s ability to go about their day. Over time, they can affect gait and balance, adding extra stress to the knees, hips, and back. This further increases the risk of injury. As heel spurs do not go away on their own, it is vital to seek treatment as early as possible.
The Importance of Getting a Proper Diagnosis by a Virginia Podiatrist
Heel spurs vary in size. Some of them can be quite small. But, it is important to diagnose them as early as possible. This makes them easier to treat, preventing more severe issues from developing later.
During an initial visit, the podiatrist will do a physical exam of your foot. They can look for signs of swelling, redness, or tenderness. You may be asked to walk or perform other physical tests. This helps the podiatrist better identify potential issues with your feet and heels. Finally, diagnostic X-rays can confirm or rule out the presence of heel spurs. Other medical imaging may be helpful too.
Treatment Options and Preventative Measures
The types of treatment available for heel spurs are similar to treating plantar fasciitis. Treatment may include:
- Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE)
- Physical therapy
- Taping or strapping the foot to relieve undue stress
- Custom orthotics or heel pad shoe inserts
- Night splints
- Anti-inflammatory medicine
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Cortisone injections
In most cases, surgery is not necessary. Your podiatrist may discuss it as an option after exhausting more conservative measures. Examples of surgical procedures include directly removing the heel spur, releasing the plantar fascia, or removing extra soft-tissue growth.
To help prevent the development of future heel spurs, your podiatrist may suggest:
- Stretching your feet regularly, especially before exercising
- Wearing better-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent soles and good arch support
- Warm up before exercising
- Pace yourself with physical activities
- Lose weight if you are obese