A heel spur is an outgrowth from the heel bone caused by calcium deposits that have accumulated in response to stress on the heel. It results in a bony protusion under the heel bone and pointing towards the toes. In some cases, this protusion can be as much as half an inch long. Heel spur symptoms can include heel pain in some cases, but they are painless in many others. Treatment of heel spurs can include stretching exercises, footwear changes, taping and other measures.Heel spurs tend to occur together with plantar fasciitis, although they can also occur on their own. These spurs are also sometimes called calcaneal spurs or plantar spurs.
What Is A Heel Spur?
They are essentially calcium deposits that have accumulated under the heel bone. This doesn’t happen overnight but can instead take many months to occur. The accumulation can have any of a number of underlying causes:
Overstretching or tearing of foot muscles or ligaments;
Overstreching of the plantar fascia (a think band of fibrous tissue that covers the bottom of the foot and also lays a key role in the development of plantar fasciitis);
Repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone.
These underlying causes tend to be especially common among athletes in sports that require extensive running and jumping.
The factors that increase the risk of developing heel spurs include:
An abnormal gait that places stress on the heel bone or on the adjacent ligaments or nerves;
Extensive running or jogging, particularly on hard surfaces;
Being overweight, as this places extra pressure on the feet;
Poorly designed shoes with inadequate arch support;
Being middle aged or older. At these ages, the flexibility of the plantar fasciitis has started to decrease and the protective fat pad over the heel has started to thin out.
Other Risk Factors
Individuals who are diabetic, have flat feet or who spend most of their day standing on their feet are also at higher risk of developing heel spurs.
Heel Spur Symptoms
In many cases, individuals with heel spurs do not experience any symptoms. However, for other affected individuals, heel spurs can cause pain that can be either chronic or occasional. The pain is usually a result of inflammation that forms at the point of the spur. Hence, technically speaking the pain is not a direct result of the heel spur but of the secondary injuries it has created.
When pain becomes a factor, activities like walking or running tend to exacerbate it. As with plantar fasciitis, the pain is also sometimes worse when taking the first few steps of the day or after standing up from a long period of sitting.
Heel Spur Treatment
If a doctor diagnoses a heel spur, treatment may include the following:
Changing to footwear with better cushioning and arch support. Alternatively, a podiatrist can recommend or design shoe/orthotic inserts that will provide better arch support;
Taping the foot to give added support to overstressed muscles and tendons and allow them to rest and recover;
Wearing night splints to bed (similar to those worn for plantar fasciitis).
If the pain is severe, taking a non prescription pain killer like aspirin.
If these conservative treatments do not work, doctors may suggest corticosteroid injections to relieve the inflammation that is causing the pain.
Surgery will usualy be considered as a final resort after the other approaches have failed. The goal of surgery would be to either release the plantar fascia or remove the plantar spur. However, surgery to treat a heel spur comes with a number of complications such as nerve pain, permanent numbness in the heel area and scarring, to name a few. So the patient should be careful to go over all pros and cons with his/her doctor before going ahead with the surgery.
Exercises To Prevent Heel Spurs
Individuals who wish to reduce the risk of developing calcaneal spurs can do so by taking the following precautions:
Always warm up and stretch properly before any physically strenuous activity;
Avoid sudden increases in training intensity; instead, increase your intensity level gradually.