What is a heel spur?
Heel spur is a hook of bone that protrudes from the bottom of the foot where plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. Pain associated with heel spurs is usually pain from plantar fasciitis, not the actual bone. Bone spurs are soft calcium deposits caused from tension in the plantar fascia. When found on an X-ray, they are used as evidence that a patient is suffering from plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs are most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged men and women. As noted, most patients with this condition have other podiatry-related pain.
What causes a heel spur?
This condition is a result of plantar fasciitis (when the fascia, a thick connective tissue that connects the heel bone and ball of the foot) becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis is typically caused from repetitive stress disorder, which can be caused by walking, running, or dancing. A heel spur can also be caused by:
- Increase or change in physical activity
- Lack of arch support or poor shoe choice
- Inflexibility in Achilles tendon and calf muscles
- Spending hours on feet daily
- Arthritis from aging (bone and natural heel cushion loss)
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Obesity / excessive weight
Heel spurs are most often diagnosed when a patient has visited a pain specialist or podiatrist for on-going foot pain related to plantar fasciitis; spurs are diagnosed via X-ray of the foot.
Heel spurs often cause no symptoms, but they can also be associated with intermittent or chronic pain – especially while walking, jogging, or running – if inflammation develops at the point of the spur formation. In general, the cause of the pain is not the heel spur itself, but the soft-tissue injury associated with it.
Patients often describe the pain of heel spurs as a knife or pin sticking into the bottom of their feet when they first stand up in the morning; the pain later turns into a dull ache, then returns again after a prolonged period of sitting followed by standing.
Treatments for bone spurs and plantar fasciitis include:
- Stretching: Stretching the calf muscles several times daily is critical in providing tension relief for the plantar fascia. Some physicians may recommend using a step to stretch, while others may encourage yoga or pushing against a wall to stretch.
- Icing after activity: A frozen tennis ball can provide specific relief. Rolling the tennis ball under the arch of the foot after exercise can lessen pain in the area.
- Taping: Taping is also recommended at times. Several manufacturers of sports tape have plantar fascia specific lines.
- Orthotics: Orthotics are a good idea for those on their feet during the day. Orthotics can provide cushioning and relief.
- Cortisone shots: Cortisone shots in the fascia can provide temporary anti-inflammatory relief.
- Weight loss: losing weight is perhaps the most effective method of improving heel and foot pain. Those who are overweight are far more likely to report these syndromes.