Heel spurs frequently come up as a potential source of heel pain.
“Oh!” someone will say in the course of regular conversation. “My aching heel! Must be my heel spur acting up!”
Just what are heel spurs, though, and are they as frequently the cause of heel pain as many expect they are?
What is a Heel Spur?
Much like a cowboy’s spur, a heel spur is a pointy protrusion toward the back of the foot. Only in this case a heel spur is much smaller and bonier.
A heel spur forms when calcium deposits begin to form on the heel bone. This is often a response to strain being repeatedly placed on surrounding muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues, irritating the area. Pressure against the back of the heel (such as from tight or rigid shoes) can also cause similar irritation.
If you run and jump a lot, are active on hard surfaces, have had past trauma to your heel, or are overweight, your odds of developing heel spurs will increase.
Heel spurs take time to develop, and usually only ever end up about half an inch long, at most.
What are the Symptoms of a Heel Spur?
If a heel spur is causing you trouble, you can expect symptoms such as:
- Inflammation and swelling toward the front of the heel
- Tenderness or sharp pain at the bottom of the heel
- A dull ache in the heel through the day
- Heat radiating from the area
However, here’s the catch.
The symptoms of a heel spur are very much like another condition, plantar fasciitis. And in more cases, the pain is being caused by that condition rather than a heel spur!
In fact, many people have heel spurs that cause them no pain whatsoever. You are more likely to learn you have a heel spur when receiving an X-ray for a separate problem!
At least half of patients who have plantar fasciitis will also have heel spurs, and in most of these cases the spurs are not the source of the pain. The spurs can be left in place while the plantar fasciitis (or other cause of heel pain) is addressed.
What if the Heel Spur IS the Cause of the Problem?
Since it can be tricky to determine whether a heel spur is the true cause of pain, we will make sure to confirm it with an X-ray before taking action.
Once the diagnosis is made, we typically begin treatment with conservative measures.
Icing and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended for initial pain relief.
Following that, we will seek to address the discomfort without having to remove the spur(s). This means taking care of the underlying reasons the spurs have developed.
If an abnormality in your gait or foot structure has been causing development and irritation of spurs, then custom orthotics or arch supports may be recommended to offload excess pressure in the area. If tight muscles and surrounding soft tissues have been placing strain on the area, then physical therapy and stretching might be recommended instead.
While conservative treatments tend to be effective in most cases, surgery may be considered if they do not provide the relief you need. A typical surgical procedure will remove spurs and potentially release a strained plantar fascia as well.
Surgery has a high success rate, but there will always be some risk in surgery. We will be sure to discuss all the pros and cons with you thoroughly before deciding upon a course of action.
Whatever the cause of your heel pain, there is no reason to continue on with it. Contact Family Foot & Ankle Center in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Our experts will carefully evaluate your condition and draw up the best treatment plan for your situation.