Yes, jogging and jumping are great for your heart. But for your heels? Not so much. Constant pounding on hard surfaces can create a heel spur, a half-inch bony protrusion on the bottom of the heel bone. If you’re lucky, heel spurs are painless, more an oddity than a condition needing treatment. But if you’re not so fortunate, heel spurs can inflame the soft tissue around the protrusion, causing you intermittent or chronic pain. If that happens, you can say goodbye to running those 10Ks.
What causes heel spurs?
Heel spurs happen when:
- Foot muscles and ligaments are strained
- Plantar fascia — fibrous tissue along the bottom of your foot that connects heel to toes — is stretched
- Membranes that cover the heel bone tear
Repeated foot pounding, common among professional athletes, causes calcium deposits to build up on the bottom of your heel bone, which forms the protrusion that causes inflammation. But you don’t have to be a track star to develop heel spurs. The condition also is created by:
- Gait abnormalities that stress the feet.
- Jogging or running on hard surfaces.
- Poorly fitting shoes.
- Obesity or excess weight.
- Standing a lot on your feet.
- Flat feet or high arches.
- Increasing age and diabetes.
Heel spur symptoms
Heel spurs become a problem when they cause pain, which patients compare to a pin or knife sticking into the bottom of their feet when they stand each morning. The pain morphs into a dull ache as the day wears on. Pain also occurs when you stand after sitting for a long time.
Heel spur treatments
Treatments run from the mechanical to the surgical. Luckily, 90% of heel spur sufferers get better without surgery. Here are common, nonsurgical heel spur treatments.
- Ice packs after walking and exercise
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin
- Injections of anti-inflammatory medications such as cortisone
- Stretching exercises, especially before bed
- Physical therapy
- Resting your feet
- Orthotic shoe inserts that provide arch support
When it’s time for surgery
If all else fails, your podiatrist may recommend surgery to remove the heel spur and, sometimes, release the plantar fascia muscle. The aim is to reduce pain and get you moving again without discomfort. If you feel like needles are piercing your foot, give Dr. Eichelsdorfer a call or set up a consultation online. He’ll diagnose your problem and, if the culprit is heel spurs, work with you to form a treatment plan.
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What You Need to Know About Treating a Heel Spur Heel spur (also known as osteophytes or calcaneal spur) is a bony outgrowth at the plantar area of the foot, i.e., under the foot sole. This condition is related to calcium deposits that grow between the arch of the foot and heel. In fact, it extends from the underside of the heel toward the arch, creating pointy, shelf-like, or hooked growths. Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis (inflammation across the foot) tend to go hand in hand. However, these two conditions can also occur independently. Additionally, heel spurs can be associated with underlying diseases causing arthritis. They include ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, and DISH (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis). This condition frequently occurs in people with active lifestyles. Those with heel spurs usually experience severe pain and tenderness when exercising or walking. This is because the spurs dig into the heel pad when stepping down and putting pressure on the heel. That causes a stabbing or shooting sensation so that the pain gets worse with every step you take. The Top Treat Options for Heel Spurs There are a number of different heel spur treatment options available for you to try that range from relieving pain to curing the condition. Check out the following options to discover the treatment that works for you. Cushioned Shoes and Orthotic Inserts The pain caused by heel spur usually happens due to the uneven pressure and poor arch support and. This is where specially designed shoe or orthotic inserts come in. By spreading pressure evenly and providing extra heel support, these inserts cut the pressure on the heels and reduce pain. Comfortable, well-fitting, cushioned shoes can give you much the same effect. These also relieve pressure and alleviate heel pain. Your best bet is to go for sports running shoes that come with soft soles. When evaluating the shoes for comfort, you should look for the following things:
- Firm heel support
- Slightly elevated heel
- Moderate flexibility
Applying Ice Cold therapy that involves local ice application is proven to relieve inflamed tissues. The same goes for heel spurs. Ice can reduce both foot pain and swelling.
- Simply apply ice packs covered with cloth to your heel.
- To keep the ice packs in place, apply a cold compression.
- Leave it on for about ten minutes and then unwrap.
- Repeat the process several times a day.
Physiotherapy (Physical Therapy) Stretching exercises for the plantar fascia and calf can relax the foot muscles. This significantly reduces strain on the heel spurs. The most helpful stretches include foot flexes and calf stretches. Once prescribed by an orthopedic doctor or podiatrist, these exercises can be done at home and/or at the clinic. Anti-Inflammatory Medications Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter (OTC) medications can relieve heel pain and inflammation. That way, they prevent further damage. The most commonly used medications for heel spurs include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
People with kidney problems as well as those with a history of ulcers and stomach bleeding should steer clear of these medications. Injections to Treat Heel Spur Pain Note that injections of steroids (cortisone injections) are meant to alleviate pain, not to cure the heel spurs. Actually, these injections reduce pain and swelling in the affected areas. They are only prescribed in more advanced cases if OTC anti-inflammatory medications are not effective. Deciding on Heel Surgery Surgical intervention may be necessary in case of chronically inflamed heel spurs. It is only recommended if the condition persists for a long time and all non-surgical treatment options have been exhausted. Luckily, the above-mentioned treatment methods are effective in most cases, so surgery is usually not needed. The most common surgical techniques for heel spurs are the removal of a spur and release of the plantar fascia. Aside from curing the bone spurs, they are supposed to improve foot mobility and relieve pain. Treating Your Heel Spur In less severe cases, natural homemade remedies can also be helpful. The most effective remedies include Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and coconut oil. Also, it is important to note that people suffering from heel spurs should take a rest whenever possible. They are advised to avoid activities which aggravate the symptoms of calcaneal spurs, such as extended periods of standing and jogging. Bone spurs, if you’ve had them, can be extremely painful or barely noticeable, or somewhere in between. Each patient’s case is unique, which is why it’s essential to learn about bone spurs, how to dissolve them, and your treatment options in full before leaping to start surgery. Our medical director, Dr. Steven Burns, DPM, FACFAS, always considers each patients’ unique needs and lifestyle before suggesting surgery and typically coordinates a more conservative treatment option before surgery as an option. Why? Bone spurs can be dissolved and pain can be alleviated without taking a scalpel to your feet. For many, surgery can be more disruptive than the bone spur itself. So, what are bone spurs? What do you need to know? Osteophytes, or bone spurs, are calcium deposits found on the bone, particularly on or around joints. Over time, the cartilage that cushions your foot and toe joints break down due to wear and tear—this is called osteoarthritis. Your body develops these calcium deposits as an attempt to replace the cartilage that has been lost. For some, bone spurs on the feet and toes can cause limited mobility, severe joint pain, and numbness. For others, bone spurs can go unnoticed for years because of the lack of symptoms. Each case is unique, which is why it’s crucial to meet with a podiatrist for professional evaluation and diagnosis. To alleviate your pain and to start treating bone spurs conservatively, follow our tips below.
1 – Stretching
Stretching your toes, feet, and ankles can alleviate pressure and strain whether you experience a toe bone spur or a heel bone spur. Here are some stretches you can do at home or at work to alleviate pain and discomfort.
- Sit with your legs stretched in front of you.
- Reach for your toes and pull them back toward you.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds.
- Repeat several times.
- Squat with your back against the wall.
- Slowly lift your heels while your toes stay on the floor.
- After a few seconds, lower your heels.
- Repeat ten times.
Wall calf stretch
- Face the wall a few feet back with your left foot in front of your right foot.
- Lean toward the wall, allowing your left knee to bend slightly.
- Let your left foot support your weight.
- Keep your right knee straight and lift your right heel off the ground.
- Hold your position for 20 seconds.
- Switch the positions of your left and right foot and repeat several times for each side.
2 – Footwear
Purchasing the proper, supportive footwear is one option for getting rid of bone spurs without surgery. Choose footwear that is cushioned, flexible, and allows for movement. Shoes that are too tight can damage the bones and tendons in your feet, encouraging the growth of bone spurs. If you’re having trouble finding the proper footwear for your toe bone spur or heel bone spur, custom orthotics and inserts can be tailored to fit you. Custom orthotics provide cushion and support to your feet, which can prevent bone spurs from occurring or alleviate already present pain. Speak with our podiatrists at Arizona Foot Doctors if you’re interested in being fitted for custom orthotics.
3 – Ice packs
Applying a cold compress on your feet can relieve swelling and pain. Place an ice pack or frozen water bottle on your foot for at least 10 minutes at a time. If you have a toe bone spur, place the bag on the top of your toes.
4 – Vitamins and supplements
Vitamins and minerals are an important defense against bone spurs. If you have osteoarthritis, it is important to make sure you are not deficient in calcium. Since magnesium and vitamin D are essential for the absorption of calcium, you will also want to be sure your levels of these are not low. These vitamins should be obtained through your diet. However, if you’re showing deficiencies, speak with your doctor to determine if supplements are right for you.
5 – Massage therapy
Massages are useful for relieving and managing pain. To alleviate the pain associated with a heel bone spur, a massage therapist might apply a massage to the calf muscles. This stimulates blood circulation which causes the calf muscle to relax, putting less strain under the foot. For a massage that you can do yourself, use a small ball and roll it on the bottom of your foot. This can be done while you’re working at a desk or on the couch watching television. Many people follow this method to bring immediate and lasting relief.
Connect with Arizona Foot Doctors, today
Knowing how to relieve pain and dissolve bone spurs conservatively, you can minimize your chances of surgery. Our podiatrists at Arizona Foot Doctors always consider non-invasive, conservative, and effective bone spur treatments first. Even if you do consider surgery, our podiatrists are there to advise you along the way. Speak with us today to evaluate your toe bone spur or heel bone spur. Together, we will create a bone spur treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and unique needs.
What is a heel spur?
A heel spur or bone spur is a bony growth that pokes out from the bottom of your heel, where your heel bone connects to the ligament running between your heel and the ball of your foot (the plantar fascia). Heel spurs affect about 15% of people. Heel spurs develop over time. Most people don’t realize they have a heel spur until they seek help for heel pain. While heel spurs can be removed with surgery, healthcare providers recommend non-surgical treatments to ease symptoms associated with heel spurs.
Are heel spurs the same thing as plantar fasciitis?
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are related conditions but they’re not the same. Here’s how the two conditions intersect:
- Plantar fasciitis happens when overuse stretches or tears your plantar fascia — the ligament that runs between your heel and the ball of your foot. If you have plantar fasciitis, you’ll probably feel intense stabbing heel pain that comes and goes throughout your day. The pain eases once you walk for a bit but comes back if you sit and then get up to walk some more.
- Heel spurs can happen as a reaction to stress and inflammation caused by plantar fasciitis. Over time your body responds to the stress by building extra bone tissue. This extra tissue becomes a heel spur. Most people don’t feel pain from their heel spur, but when they do, the pain is like plantar fasciitis pain.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes heel spurs?
Heel spurs are your body’s response to stress and strain placed on your foot ligaments and tendons. For example, when you develop plantar fasciitis, your body responds to the stress by creating a heel spur. You can also develop heel spurs by repeatedly tearing the covering that lines your heel bone or if you have a gait disorder. (A gait disorder is when an illness or condition affects your balance and coordination so you can’t walk as you usually do.)
Diagnosis and Tests
How do healthcare providers diagnose heel spurs?
Healthcare providers typically examine your foot and ask about physical activity that might have caused your heel pain. Ultimately, X-rays are one of the most common tests that healthcare providers use to diagnose heel spurs.
Management and Treatment
What’s the treatment for heel spurs?
Healthcare providers treat heel spurs the same way they treat plantar fasciitis. That’s because heel pain blamed on heel spurs is actually caused by plantar fasciitis. Treating the symptoms of plantar fasciitis can ease pain associated with heel spurs. Typical treatment includes:
- Resting your heel. If you run or jog, taking a break will help your heel pain.
- Using cold packs or ice. “Icing” the bottom of your foot can help ease heel pain.
- Taking oral anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Wearing footwear or shoe inserts that support your arches and protect your plantar fascia by cushioning the bottom of your foot.
Will I need surgery for my heel spur?
Your heel spur might be removed as part of plantar fasciitis surgery, but healthcare providers rarely perform surgery to remove heel spurs.
Do heel spurs go away without surgery?
Once formed, heel spurs are permanent. Surgery is the only way to remove a heel spur. Since heel spurs usually don’t hurt, treating the condition that caused your heel spur should help ease your heel pain.
What are risk factors for heel spurs?
Several factors increase your risk of developing heel spurs. Some factors are things you can change right away or change over time. Others you cannot change.
Changes you can make right now
- If you jog or run, choose soft surfaces like grass and tracks over hard surfaces like sidewalks and pavement.
- Wear shoes that fit and support your arches.
- Wear slippers or shoes if you walk on hardwood or tile floors.
- Adjust the way you walk so there’s less pressure on your heels.
Changes you can make over time
- Lose weight so you put less pressure on your foot.
- Change your daily routine so you aren’t on your feet as much.
Things you can’t change
- As you age, your plantar fascia becomes less flexible, more prone to damage, and more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
- You gradually lose the natural fat pad cushions on the bottom of your feet.
- You have fat feet or high arches.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have heel spurs?
Other conditions usually cause heel spurs. There are treatments that can ease the pain of these underlying conditions, but surgery is the only way to remove a heel spur. Ask your healthcare provider if surgery is an appropriate solution to your heel spur problem.
How do I take care of myself if I have heel spurs?
Once you have a heel spur, you’ll always have a heel spur. Fortunately, heel spurs generally don’t hurt. But you should plan on managing the symptoms associated with heel spurs. Here are some steps you can take:
- Cut back on activities that make your heel pain worse.
- Be sure you have well-fitting shoes that support your arches.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Talk to your provider if treatment for your heel pain doesn’t seem to help. While heel spurs don’t always hurt, ongoing heel pain might be a sign that it’s time to try other treatments or check for other potential problems.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- Why do I have a heel spur?
- What can you do for my heel spur?
- Will my heel spur go away?
- If my heel spur isn’t causing my heel pain, what is?
- What treatments can address the problem that caused my heel spur?
A note from Cleveland Clinic A heel spur happens when stress and strain damage your plantar fascia, the ligament on the bottom of your foot. Heel spurs usually aren’t the reason why your heel hurts. You probably learned about your heel spur when you sought help for heel pain. Even if your heel spur didn’t cause your heel pain, you should still pay attention to your heels. If your heels hurt when you do certain activities, talk to your healthcare provider about additional steps you can take to ease your heel pain.
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