A heel spurs is an annoying and irritating condition that can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and may even be developing without your knowledge. Educating yourself on the details, causes, preventative measures and treatment options is a good way to avoid and remedy this common affliction.
What is a Heel Spur?
A heel spur is a bony growth that develops at the rear or bottom of the heel bone. Also known as calcaneal spurs or osteophytes, these small, bony protrusions often develop without any obvious symptoms, and may not cause pain or inflammation for months or years. On an X-ray, you can often see a heel spur extend by as much as 1/4 of an inch, but in this initial stages of discomfort, these growths may not even appear on an X-ray.
Diagnosing a heel spur can be difficult, as it is often mistaken for plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the tendon that connects the heel bone to the toes. Many people often suffer from both of these conditions simultaneously, particularly when the heel spur occurs on the bottom of the calcaneous bone (heel bone). When a heel spur develops on the back of the heel, it is more commonly associated with the Achilles tendon, or inflammatory conditions of tendonitis. Some people also develop a heel spur all by itself, without any connection to another inflammatory condition.
Causes of Heel Spur
A heel spur can have a number of causes, including excess calcium deposition, strain on the foot ligaments, repetitive physical activity, various inflammatory diseases, obesity, improper shoes and gait issues.
Foot Ligaments: Most cases of heel spur occur because of damage or inflammation to the foot ligaments; when this damage or strain is perceived, more calcium depositions are formed to support the ligament, which can lead to the bony outgrowth on the bottom or back of the heel bone.
Calcium Levels: An excess amount of calcium in the body can speed the process of heel spur formation, in much the same way as gout and other inflammatory conditions can be exacerbated by an excessively high level of calcium in the blood.
Repetitive Physical Activity: For athletes who regularly jump or run in their respective sports, heel spurs can be quite common. That constant impact on the heels, arches and ligaments of the feet will cause inflammation and potentially speed the development of this condition.
Obesity: If your frame is carrying around more weight than it is designed for, the responsibility for that extra weight often lies in the feet. Obesity can put a lot of strain on ligaments and muscles, leading to chronic inflammation in the legs and feet, which is why obese people often suffer from this condition.
Aging: As we age, the tissues, bones and ligaments in our body natural begin to break down or weaken, and cannot be replaced fast enough. This can lead to inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, and can also contribute to the calcium deposition that leads to heel spurs.
Shoe Choice: Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or don’t provide adequate support is a very common cause of a heel spur. If your shoes are too loose, too tight, or don’t support your arches, it can lead to inflammation in the tendons and ligaments in your foot, which increases the risk of a heel spur. Furthermore, wearing high heels or flip-flops very often can put you at a higher risk.
Gait: The way you walk can cause a heel spur to develop, particularly if you are flat-footed, bow-legged or are pigeon-toed. These types of gait can increase strain on the plantar fascia and Achilles’ tendon, making you more susceptible to heel spur growth.
Symptoms of Heel Spur
The symptoms of a heel spur may be difficult to identify, as this condition only causes pain in approximately 50% of people who suffer from it. Some of the most common symptoms include a sharp stabbing pain, like a knife or pin being pushed into the heel, followed by a dull aching in that area of the foot. The symptoms are particularly obvious when you first rise in the morning, or when you stand up after sitting down for a lengthy amount of time.
These symptoms arise because of increased blood flow to that area of the body, which can inflame the damaged tissue area, causing it to press against the heel spur. The deposition of calcium that causes a heel spur is your body’s way of supporting the ligaments and tendons (plantar fascia, Achille’s etc.), but it ends up leading to more pain when the heel spur jabs into the delicate tissue of the heel pad.
As mentioned, however, almost 50% of people don’t experience any negative discomfort or inflammation as a result of a heel spur, and may not be aware of its presence until it is large enough to require surgical removal. Once a heel spur grows large enough, it can be felt beneath the skin, and may even be visible as a small protrusion beneath the foot or on the back of the heel.
Prevention of Heel Spur
Some of the most effective ways to prevent heel spurs include wearing and alternating the proper shoes, resting adequately after exercise, warming up before exercise and losing weight, among others.
As mentioned earlier, improper shoes can significantly increase your chances of developing a heel spur. Wearing the proper shoes when you exercise, particularly when you run, is important to reducing your risk of heel spurs, as is alternating your footwear so you don’t continue inflaming the same areas that lack support.
Since obesity is a major contributing factor to heel spurs, ensuring you maintain the proper weight is an effective preventative measure for this condition.
Before you exercise or engage in a repetitive activity, a simple warm-up routine to get the tendons and ligaments in your foot ready for the activity will reduce strain and inflammation.
Following intense physical activity or exercise, it is crucial to let those muscles and ligaments rest and repair themselves before putting additional strain on that area of the body.
Treatments for Heel Spurs
If you want to treat heel spurs, there are some formal procedures as well as natural remedies that can provide relief, including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, ice, orthotic shoes, surgery, radio-frequency ablation, Epsom salt, coconut oil, turmeric, and swimming/cycling.
Cortisone and ibuprofen are two popular anti-inflammatory medications that can relieve the pain and discomfort of heel spurs, particularly when taken both before and after physical activity.
Seeking out a physical therapist after being diagnosed with heel spurs will provide you with many different exercises and techniques that you can use to slow the onset of heel spurs and decrease their symptoms.
Non-impact sports like swimming and cycling can build up the muscles and ligaments in your foot, without causing excessive inflammation or impact. Swimming and cycling are two excellent exercises for this type of low-impact remedy.
In rare cases, surgery can be done to remove the heel spur, particularly when it is causing chronic or debilitating pain. This is considered the last resort for people with a heel spur, and is avoided when possible by doctors and surgeons.
Specialty shoes with inserts to support your arches and ligaments are widely available and relatively inexpensive. They can provide support and comfort for those with this annoying condition.
This minimally invasive procedure involves heating up certain nerve tissues in the foot that control electrical conduction and pain signals. Medium-frequency alternating current is used to heat up these tissues.
Apply ice can help soothe inflammation by slowing down the inflammatory response of the body and reducing swelling, which will prevent the heel spur from painfully jabbing into the inflamed tissue of the heel pad.
The active ingredients in coconut oil are relied on to treat a vast array of medical conditions, including heel spurs. By gently massaging coconut oil into the affected area 1-2 times per day, you can significantly reduce inflammation and stimulate the healing process, which won’t eliminate the heel spur, but it will minimize the symptoms.
One of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices that we have ever discovered is turmeric, primarily due to its high concentration of curcumin. This antioxidant has anti-inflammatory properties that will reduce swelling and soothe pain in the heel. Taking a turmeric supplement every morning is recommended for people with moderate to severe pain from heel spurs.
Soaking your foot in a warm Epsom salt bath can quickly lower inflammation and soothe pain. Composed of magnesium sulfate, Epsom salts are known to soothe many different parts of the body, especially when used every day, in conjunction with a thorough massage of the affected areas.