A heel spur is a calcium deposit that grows into a bony protusion under the heel bone and extends forward (to the toes) by as much as half an inch in some cases. It is sometimes referred to as a plantar or calcaneal spur. Besides the appearance of this bony protusion, heel spurs can sometimes cause pain as a symptom but in many cases are painless. There are several possible treatments for heel spurs, including special exercises, custom made shoe inserts or other orthotics and anti pain and inflammation medications. As a final resort, they can also be treated using cortisone injections or surgical procedures.
In many cases, heel spurs are usually accompanied by the appearance of plantar fasciitis. The two conditions have a number of common risk factors in their development.
Heel spurs have the following risk factors that increase the chance of developing the condition:
Gait abnormalities – individuals whose gait tends to place more stress than normal on the heel bone or on the adjacent ligaments and nerves are more at risk of developing plantar spurs;
If you run or jog a lot on hard, unyielding surfaces, the resulting constant shocks to the heel can predispose you to develop spurs;
Wearing shoes with inadequate arch support;
Being overweight or diabetic;
Age is also a risk factor – as you age, the plantar fascia that covers the bottom of your foot loses its flexibility and the protective fat pad over your heel thins out;
Spending most of the day standing (possibly due to job requirements);
Being flat footed or having high arches can also increase your predisposition to calcaneal spurs.
Heel Spur Symptoms
Many people with heel spurs will not notice any symptoms. However some afflicted individuals will experience pain of an intermittent or chronic nature. The pain may especially appear during physically demanding activities like walking or running that place stresses on the heel or adjacent structures. However, this pain is not directly due to the heel spurs themselves but to soft tissue injury and then inflammation that may develop as a result of it.
As with plantar fasciitis, heel spur pain may often appear first thing in the morning. It may be a sharp pain initially that then turns into a dull ache that remains throughout the day. However, it may return as a sharp pain if you later spend some time sitting down and then try to get up.
As mentioned earlier, plantar spurs often appear at or about the same time as plantar fasciitis.
Treatment & Prevention Of Heel Spurs
Unlike most overuse injuries, rest is not usually part of a treatment program for heel spurs. Instead, the pain (if any) of the condition will often appear with extra intensity after a night’s sleep. Instead, your doctor may prefer other non surgical treatments such as:
Seeing a podiatrist who can design or recommend shoe inserts or footwear that will increase arch support;
Taping your foot to improve arch support;
Wearing night splints while sleeping (as with plantar fasciitis);
Use over the counter medications like aspirin for pain control. NSAIDS can also help to reduce the inflammation that is the root cause of the pain.
Doctors can also use anti inflammatory cortisone injections to aggressively attack heel spur pain.
For 9 out of 10 individuals, non surgical treatments will be enough to ease or eliminate the pain of heel spurs. If they are not effective, doctors may suggest surgical intervention.
If they are necessary, surgical procedures can be performed to correct your heel spurs by:
Remove the plantar/calcaneal spur; or
Release the plantar fascia and reduce the pain you are experiencing.
If you decide to undergo surgery, you should be sure to ask your doctor about short and long term side effects. In many cases, you may experience nerve damage or permanent numbness (among other effects) as a result of corrective surgery.
Once your heel spurs have been treated (surgically or conservatively), you may want to know what steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of their recurrence. To reduce the risk of recurrence, you can:
Make sure you warm up properly (including stretching) before starting a run or other activity that can place stress on your heels;
Once you start your run or walk, build up your intensity gradually and be careful not to push yourself too hard too soon.