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Heel Spurs: An Overview of Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

By 

Janik Sundstrom

 on April 25, 2022. 
Reviewed by 

Kirsty Macdougall

A before and after image of a man with heel spur pain

A heel spur is a bony protrusion on the heel, which is usually felt in the middle of the underside of the heel. It is a common condition and is often the cause of heel pain, as the spur eventually leads to inflammation and pain as the tissue becomes aggravated. While heel spurs aren’t usually dangerous, in some cases they can limit your physical and daily activities, and therefore, require treatment.

Causes of Heel Spurs

Internal Causes

When there is repetitive stress on the heel, calcium deposits compound over time, eventually leading to the development of the bony spur or osteophyte. The growth protrudes into the soft tissue of the foot when there is pressure placed on the heel. Weight and gender also play a role, as people who are overweight and female are more susceptible to developing heel spurs.

External Causes

Heel spurs occur as a result of stress and strain placed on the ligaments and tendons of the foot. Running on hard surfaces, poorly fitting shoes, and spending long periods on your feet can all contribute to the condition. Certain gait abnormalities are also causes of heel spurs, such as an increased amount of heel strike when running or walking.

Untreated or unmanaged plantar fasciitis may result in the formation of a heel spur in some cases. Plantar fasciitis is often a precursor to developing a heel spur, as the tissue on the underside of the foot becomes inflamed. As the two conditions are closely related, addressing plantar fasciitis may be the best way to reduce your risk of developing a heel spur or lessening the extent of your symptoms.

Symptoms of a Heel Spur

The symptoms associated with heel spurs include:

  • Sharp, stabbing sensations in the heel, usually in the morning when standing up
  • A constant, dull ache in the heel hat persists over the course of the day
  • Pain in the central heel when touched or weight is placed on the foot
  • Inflammation and swelling of the heel
  • A sensation of heat around the foot
  • Point tenderness at the bottom of the heel

How to Treat a Heel Spur

Non-Surgical Treatment

There is a host of conservative treatments for heel spurs, including:

  • Ice: Applying ice to the heel can relieve inflammation
  • Orthotics: They cushion the heel and reduce the shock applied to the foot while running or walking. This reduces inflammation, and consequently, pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: This can provide you with immediate pain relief, so you can complete daily tasks as normal. These medications, however, are associated with side effects such as stomach ulcers and kidney issues.
  • Stretching: The muscles and structures of the calf muscle complex may provide you with relief from pain and inflammation by reducing the strain placed on the soft tissue around the spur itself. Stretching the muscles of the foot may also help.
  • Corticosteroid injections: These are administered by medical professionals and provide symptom relief for about 3 to 6 months. One cannot get multiple steroid injections as it increases the likelihood of complications such as a tendon rupture. They also aren't a cure for this condition.

Surgical Treatment

    Should the spur protrude to the extent that the soft tissue is inflamed, and other pain remedies have failed to reduce your symptoms, surgical interventions might be considered. During this procedure, the spur is removed, but the recovery process may be quite extensive. At least 3 weeks are spent on crutches after the surgery, and it may take further time to be fully symptom-free.

Can Heel Spurs Be Prevented?

Heel spurs are oftentimes preventable. Treating the conditions that could potentially contribute to the development of heel spurs is paramount in preventing the growth of a heel spur.

Preventative measures aiming to reduce the strain and stress applied to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones of the foot will be helpful in lowering the risk of developing a heel spur. Using orthotics or specialized shoes is one prevention method, as it limits the shock placed through the heel.

Vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and vitamin D are essential for the absorption of calcium, and therefore, slow the development of heel spurs. These vitamins can be consumed in a healthy, balanced diet and usually do not require supplementation. 

Should your symptoms or pain become debilitating and limits your mobility, seek advice from a medical professional regarding treatment options for your heel spurs. 

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