A heel spurs is a calcium deposit that causes a bony protrusion under the heel bone. It can extend forward to as much as half an inch as seen on an X-ray. Without any X-ray evidence, the condition is usually called “heel spur syndrome.”
Although most heel spurs do not cause pain, some come with heel pain. The pain is usually associated with plantar fasciitis, or the inflammation of the connective tissue (plantar fascia) that connects the heel bone to the ball of foot.
Heel spurs and other similar conditions are treated with custom-made orthotics, exercise, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid injections. If these treatments fail, surgery may be required.
What causes a heel spur?
A heel spur develops when there is a build-up of calcium deposits on the underside of the heel bone. This process occurs over several months. Heel spurs are typically caused by strains on the ligaments and muscles of the foot and stretching of the plantar fascia. It can also be due to repeated tearing of the membrane covering the heel bone. The condition is common among athletes, especially runners.
You are at risk of having a heel spur if you have any of the following:
- gait abnormalities that put too much stress on the heel bone, ligaments, and nerves that are near the heel
- you regularly run or jog on hard surfaces
- wear poor-fitting shoes that do not provide enough arch support
- you are overweight or suffer from obesity
Increasing age, diabetes, being on your feet most of the day, and having high arches or flat feet are also risk factors for plantar fasciitis.
How do I know if I have a heel spur?
Heel spurs do not usually have symptoms. However, if there is inflammation in the area where the spur has formed, intermittent or chronic pain can be felt. Pain is common when walking or running. Generally, it is not the heel spur that causes the pain but the tissue injury that comes with spur formation.
The pain of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs is described by many as a pin or knife that is stuck in the bottom of the foot when they first stand upon waking up. The pain becomes a dull ache later in the day. People with plantar fasciitis and heel spurs say that the sharp pain comes back after prolonged standing.
How can I treat a heel spur?
Rest may not be enough to treat the pain that comes with a heel spur and plantar fasciitis. Walking after a full night’s sleep causes sudden elongation of the plantar fascia, which worsens the pain. The pain becomes more bearable the more you walk. However, the pain may recur after prolonged rest or too much walking.
Heel pain that has been around for more than a month needs to be checked by a doctor. Your doctor may recommend conservative treatments such as stretching, changing of footwear, taping stressed muscles to rest it, or using shoe inserts and other orthotics. Physical therapy may be advised as well.
Heel pain may be treated with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. For many people with heel pain, an orthotic device can correct the cause of arch pain and heel pain. Any inflammation may be relieved by injecting a corticosteroid to the area.
Do I need surgery for my heel spur?
Most people with heel spurs do not require surgery. If symptoms continue to appear after a year of treating the condition conservatively, surgery may be advised to relieve pain and restore your mobility. Surgery involves release of the plantar fascia or removal of the spur.
How Can I prevent the formation of a heel spur?
Preventing heel spurs begins with wearing the right footwear. Go for well-fitting footwear with shock-absorbent soles and excellent arch support. It is also important to use the right shoes depending on what you’re doing. Be sure to warm up and do some stretching before every activity and pace yourself during these activities.
Stay away from shoes that have excessive wear on the soles and heels. Losing weight may also help in heel spur prevention.