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What is a Heel Spur? - Injury Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT March 25, 2021 0 Comments

A heel spur can cause pain and discomfort, but sometimes there may be no obvious symptoms at all. In this guide, we will discuss what is a heel spur, what causes it, and how to treat it. Many non-surgical treatments are available, most of which you can perform from the comfort of your home. However, if your bone spur does not respond well to heel spur treatment, surgery may be the best option. Read on to find all the information you need to get back on your feet.

What is a Heel Spur?

A heel spur is a calcium deposit that causes a bony outgrowth or protrusion that is located on the bottom of the heel. 

The technical term for the heel bone is the calcaneus bone, and for that reason you may also hear this condition referred to as a calcaneal heel spur. You may also hear the condition referred to as heel spur syndrome. 

Bone spurs can actually occur anywhere on the heel, but usually occur underneath the heel of the foot (heel spur) or on the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon is attached. They can both cause pain and inflammation in the local area.

Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis

Spurs under the sole of the heel are often associated with plantar fasciitis. Both heel spurs and plantar fasciitis have similar risk factors and causes. The treatments for heel spur and plantar fasciitis are also similar. 

Plantar fasciitis refers to the inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes to provide proper shock absorption and arch support. It can lead to significant pain and stiffness in the foot. 

In some cases of heel pain, it may be unclear whether the pain is caused by a heel spur or plantar fasciitis (or most often, a combination of the two). If necessary, an X-ray can help determine whether a heel spur is present.

Learn More About Plantar Fasciitis Pain

What Causes Heel Spurs?

Heel spurs are caused by excessive strain on the soft tissues and ligaments in your heel, usually over a prolonged period of time. In some cases, there may be an underlying cause, such as arthritis. 

Stretching of or strain to the plantar fascia could also cause a heel spur. Thus, plantar fasciitis itself may cause a heel spur also. 

Common causes of heel spurs include:

  • Gait Abnormality
  • Obesity
  • Existing foot conditions like Flat Feet, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, etc.
  • Wear and tear of soft tissues due to excessive strain
  • A strained or stretched plantar fascia
  • Inadequate running shoes or poorly fitting shoes
  • Overuse injuries
  • Shoes that lack support for the foot and heel

Who is at Risk of Developing Heel Spurs?

Certain groups of people, or people who engage in certain activities, are at increased risk of developing a heel spur. These include: 

  • Older adults and seniors
  • Poor general health
  • People who are overweight
  • Runners and joggers (especially if running for long periods on a hard surface)
  • Athletes and active individuals
  • People who walk with an uneven gait
  • Anyone with a chronic inflammatory disease, such as Diabetes and gout
  • People who have flat feet or high arches

Heel Spur Symptoms

Though some people with heel spurs experience pain, others notice no symptoms at all. A painful heel spur can be distressing, as it affects our ability to walk or put pressure on our feet. With palpation, very specific point tenderness in the heel is another potential sign of a heel spur. 

How do you know if you have a heel spur?

The most common symptoms of heel spurs are:

  • Pain on the bottom of the heel
  • Tenderness around the heel, particularly where the heel and arch meet
  • Chronic pain or intermittent pain
  • Inflammation in the foot and ankle
  • Sharp pain in the heel when standing up, particularly first thing in the morning

Try These Treatment Options for Pain Relief

Diagnosing Your Foot Pain

Speak to your doctor or podiatrist for medical advice if you’re experiencing chronic or intermittent heel or foot pain. He or she will ask questions about your health and medical history and fully assess the foot.  Sometimes, they will order an X-ray to provide a clear heel spur picture or rule out other issues like fractures, arthritis, and other potential bone spur areas. 

If a heel spur is ruled out but you are still experiencing bottom of the foot pain, your doctor will advise you on other potential causes, including plantar fasciitis.

Preventing Heel Spurs

A number of simple precautions can help you avoid developing heel spurs in the first place. Follow these tips to prevent heel spurs.

  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting additional stress on your feet.
  • Wear comfortable shoes that fit your feet.
  • Invest in insoles or orthotics for further support.( Here’s how to choose the right insoles.)
  • Stretch regularly, particularly if playing sports or exercising.
  • Warm up thoroughly before activity.
  • Seek treatment for any inflammatory disease.

Follow This Treatment Guide

Recovering from a Heel Spur

Heel pain can keep us from daily life and the activities we love, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Simple, at-home treatments and remedies are available to treat your heel spur to manage your pain and swelling.  Additionally, there are great conservative treatment options, such as physical therapy, or anti-inflammatory medication to treat underlying issues that initially caused the injury. 

More on conserative treatments here

Start today and you’ll soon be recovered from heel pain and heel spurs. Don’t forget to discuss any questions and symptoms with your doctor and find a good pair of insoles to treat heel spurs and prevent future injury. 

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/heel-spurs-pain-causes-symptoms-treatments#1-2

https://www.medicinenet.com/heel_spurs/article.htm

https://www.emedicinehealth.com/heel_spurs/article_em.htm

Heel Spur Products

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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