A heel spur is a foot condition that’s created by a bony-like growth, called a calcium deposit, that extends between your heel bone and arch.
Heel spurs often start in the front of and underneath your heel. They eventually affect other parts of your foot. They can get up to half an inch in length. They may not necessarily be visible to the naked eye.
Detecting heel spurs can be challenging. Heel spurs don’t always cause pain, and not all heel pain is related to spurs. Keep reading to learn more about these bony growths and what causes them.
Symptoms of heel spurs may include:
- swelling at the front of your heel
The affected area may also feel warm to the touch. These symptoms may spread to the arch of your foot. Eventually, a small bony protrusion may be visible.
Some heel spurs may cause no symptoms at all. You may also not see any changes in soft tissues or bones surrounding the heel. Heel spurs are often discovered only through X-rays and other tests done for another foot issue.
Heel spurs are directly caused by long-term muscle and ligament strain. Eventually, this excessive strain stresses the heel bone (calcaneus) causing spurs.
Heel spurs develop over time. They don’t suddenly appear after a workout or a sports event. Heel spurs tend to occur when you ignore early symptoms like heel pain.
Repetitive stress from walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces is a common cause of heel spurs. They may also develop from wearing shoes that don’t support your foot.
Heel spurs may also be caused by:
- bruising of the heel
- excess body weight
- poorly fitted shoes
- walking gait issues
- wearing flip-flops too often
- worn-out shoes
Many people who have heel spurs also have plantar fasciitis. This painful condition deals with the tough, fibrous tissue that runs between your heel and toes. Having plantar fasciitis increases your risk for eventually developing heel spurs.
Q: What’s the difference between heel spurs and plantar fasciitis?
A: There’s a distinct difference between a heel spur and plantar fasciitis, but the two are closely related. A heel spur is a bony projection that occurs from the bottom of the heel along the course of the plantar fascia. It will vary in size but is usually not larger than half an inch. A heel spur may have no symptoms associated with it. It’s often discovered on an X-ray.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition in which there’s an inflammatory process occurring where the plantar fasciitis attaches to the heel. This occurs because of an abnormal force being placed on it. Excess weight, overuse, or wearing shoes without a supporting arch can cause an abnormal force.
As a general rule, plantar fasciitis will subside on its own over a period of time regardless of the treatment. A heel spur will be there permanently, unless surgery is required. Fortunately, surgery is rarely needed.
— William Morrison, MD
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
It’s difficult for you diagnose a heel spur without medical assistance. This is because the symptoms are similar to other forms of heel pain and foot problems.
Bony protrusions aren’t usually visible to the naked eye. That’s why diagnostic imaging tools are essential if you’re experiencing any unknown causes of foot pain and inflammation.
Before ordering imaging tests, your doctor will conduct a physical examination of your foot to look for any signs of redness or inflammation. Your doctor will also check for any noticeable tenderness on the foot. Tenderness is another indication of a heel spur.
Your podiatrist may also have you do physical tests, such as standing on one foot at a time, as well as taking a brief walk.
Heel spur treatment primarily consists of rest and lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about the following treatment options for heel spurs.
Using ice packs or cold compresses for up to 15 minutes at a time may help relieve heel spur pain by temporarily numbing the area. This method also helps reduce swelling. Cold compresses are preferable over heat packs for heel spurs because heat works better for joint and muscle aches.
Injections of anti-inflammatory medications
For severe pain, your podiatrist may recommend corticosteroid shots. These anti-inflammatory injections help to ease both pain and inflammation throughout the heel and arch of the foot.
Over-the-counter pain medications
Tell your doctor if you’re taking any other medications, such as blood thinners, or if you have any preexisting liver or kidney problems that could prevent you from taking OTC pain relievers.
Physical therapy exercises and stretching exercises
Your podiatrist may recommend physical therapy as a way to learn and practice exercises to prevent long-term pain, especially since anti-inflammatory medications can only be safely taken for a short amount of time.
Heel spur exercises consist of stretching the heel and plantar fascia muscles. Your physical therapist can show you how to do some of the exercises at home. These can be performed at any time of the day, but stretches can be especially helpful at night before bedtime.
Rest is one of the most recommended treatment measures for both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs.
Not only does rest help alleviate acute pain, but getting off your feet can also prevent your condition from worsening. It’s especially important to rest the feet after long periods of standing and other activities.
In the case of acute pain from a heel spur, your podiatrist may ask you to rest your foot until your symptoms subside. Putting weight on your heel while it’s in pain will likely worsen your condition. It could also lengthen your recovery time.
Orthotic shoe inserts
Orthotic shoe inserts, such as heel pads, can help give you the arch and heel support needed to reduce pain. Heel pads can also prevent further wear and tear. They should be used in addition to proper footwear for all-around foot protection.
Your doctor may recommend surgery when heel spur pain becomes severe and ongoing. This type of surgery involves removing the heel spur. Sometimes it also involves releasing the plantar fascia.
Heel spur surgery not only reduces pain, but it’s also aimed at boosting mobility in the overall foot. Most people who have this type of surgery also have plantar fasciitis. Due to other forms of treatments and therapies available, surgery is not common for heel spurs alone.
Before recommending heel spur surgery, your doctor will determine if you’re a proper candidate by conducting final imaging tests via X-rays and EKGs, as well as blood flow tests to the foot.
It will also take time for you to fully recover from heel spur surgery so that you’re able to put weight on your foot again. The recovery process might include:
- resting your foot and using ice
- supportive gear
Stretching exercises are good methods of overall body conditioning because they help you work out sore muscles and tight ligaments while also preventing injuries. The same concept applies to heel spur pain management and recovery.
Certain types of stretches can help improve pain and inflammation in your heel and calf areas. These include:
- calf stretches against the wall
- calf stretches on steps
- golf/tennis ball foot rolls
- seated foot flexes
- towel grabs with your toes
Certain essential oils may act as natural anti-inflammatories to reduce both pain and swelling. They may also be massaged into your heels for further relief.
Some of the most notable anti-inflammatory essential oils include:
While studies are still being done to evaluate their anti-inflammatory effects, there’s no concrete evidence yet available that proves essential oils work to cure heel spurs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that these oils have medicinal properties. When used incorrectly, they can cause side effects. Always combine a few drops of an essential oil with at least three times the amount of a carrier oil and conduct a patch test prior to application..
Preventing heel spurs requires an increased attention to your overall foot health. Be mindful of the everyday stresses you place on your feet. Be sure to give them a rest at the end of the day.
As a rule of thumb, you should never push through any heel pain that develops.
Continuing to walk, exercise, or wear shoes that cause heel pain can lead to long-term issues such as heel spurs. If you experience heel pain after any activity, ice the area and give your foot a rest until it gets better.