Heel spurs are among the most common foot issues. However, since heel spurs often do not cause pain, many people are unaware they have heel spurs. Having knowledge surrounding heel spurs can help you determine if you may have them and how they are treated.
What are heel spurs?
A heel spur is a calcium deposit which causes a bony protrusion on the bottom of the heel bone. Heel spurs can occur closer to the back of the heel (closer to the Achilles tendon) or further forward on the foot, under the arch of the foot. Heel spurs have to be diagnosed through an X-ray and sometimes X-ray images can show a heel spur extending forward (toward the toes) by as much as half of an inch–ouch!
While heel spurs themselves are painless, sometimes they cause heel pain. Heel spurs are also associated with plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament at the bottom of the foot.
What causes heel spurs?
Since heel spurs occur when calcium deposits build up, they often develop over time, taking months to years to be noticeable. The buildup of calcium is directly related to long-term muscle and ligament strain. Over time, the excess strain on muscles and ligaments stretches the soft tissues in the heel and wears them out.
Heel spurs can also be related to more serious underlying diseases and/or issues. Diseases which can cause heel spurs include arthritis, reactive arthritis, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Other issues which can cause heel spurs include bruising of the heel, poorly fitted shoes, walking gait issues, and excess body weight.
We also mentioned that heel spurs and plantar fasciitis often occur hand in hand. More than half of patients who have heel spurs also have plantar fasciitis. This condition increases your risk for developing heel spurs.
Symptoms of heel spurs
It is important to note that many heel spurs are asymptomatic and are only discovered through an X-ray for an entirely separate condition. When heel spurs do cause symptoms, they often include inflammation, pain, and swelling of the front of the heel. Some patients have reported their foot feeling warm to the touch. If the heel spur has been developing for a long time, you may even be able to see a small, bony protrusion.
Treating heel spurs
If you think you may have a heel spur, you should make an appointment to see a podiatrist, as it is difficult to diagnose a heel spur on your own. Heel spurs can only be diagnosed by an X-ray ordered by your podiatrist.
After your heel spur is diagnosed, there are many treatments your podiatrist may recommend. At-home treatments include cold compresses, over-the-counter pain medications, and rest. Treatments which need to be prescribed or referred by your podiatrist include injections of anti-inflammatory medications, orthotic shoe inserts, and physical therapy.
In some rare cases, a podiatrist may recommend surgery to remove the heel spur. These surgeries are most likely seen in patients who also suffer from plantar fasciitis, as the surgery also involves releasing the plantar fascia ligament. Heel spur surgery reduces pain and helps with overall mobility of the foot.
If you think you may have heel spurs or plantar fasciitis which is causing a heel spur, you should see your podiatrist as soon as possible. He or she can help you determine the best treatment plan which will allow you to live an active, pain-free life.