Heel spurs are a hot topic in our clinic – particularly around whether they’re the underlying cause of a person’s ongoing or recurring heel pain. There’s a lot of confusion and misconceptions around heel spurs, especially in relation to plantar fasciitis heel pain. Here’s what you should know about heel spurs from the heel pain experts.
What Is A Heel Spur?
A heel spur is a bony growth that develops on the underside of the heel bone (calcaneus). It typically forms in response to repeated stress or pressure on the heel, which causes calcium deposits to accumulate and harden over time. Heel spurs can range in size and shape, and they may or may not cause pain or discomfort. They are often associated with plantar fasciitis, a condition that involves inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes.
It should be noted that bony spurs can develop in areas all around the body where a tendon attaches to bone. This includes a spur at the back of the heel bone, at the Achilles tendon.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
Bony spurs develop when soft tissues repetitively apply stress to the bone that they are attached to. This may be the result of overdoing it during exercise, poor foot mechanics that overload the tendons, medical conditions like arthritis or gout, wearing unsupportive footwear that leads to excess strain on the tendons, and may even be linked to the ageing process, where our bones and tissues naturally grow weaker.
What Are The Symptoms Of Heel Spurs?
Interestingly, the majority of people we see with heel spurs do not experience any symptoms, painful or otherwise, and the spurs are often detected incidentally on X-rays or other imaging tests. However, when symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Pain: this is felt on the bottom of the heel. The pain is often described as a sharp, stabbing sensation that worsens with standing, walking, or running.
- Inflammation: the plantar fascia (the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and the one affected in the condition plantar fasciitis), can occur alongside heel spurs. This can cause swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected area.
- Tenderness: the area around the heel spur may be tender to the touch.
- Stiffness: there may be stiffness or reduced flexibility in the affected foot.
- Difficulty walking: the pain and discomfort associated with heel spurs can make it difficult to walk normally, especially first thing in the morning or after periods of rest.
How Are Heel Spurs Diagnosed?
The only way to confidently diagnose a heel spur is via x-ray medical imaging. With this said, it’s important to note that the majority of heel pain we see is not caused by heel spurs. Other conditions, primarily plantar fasciitis, as well as Achilles tendonitis, can also cause similar symptoms. Hence, x-rays are not often used to investigate heel spurs specifically further.
What Is The Treatment For Heel Spurs?
The treatment for heel spurs is very similar to the treatment for plantar fasciitis heel pain, given the spur develops at the insertion of the fascia. This includes using custom foot orthotics, wearing good, supportive footwear, and starting a rehab program with stretching and strengthening exercises. Your podiatrist will discuss your management plan in full during your appointment, once we confirm what the cause of your heel pain truly is.
Can Heel Spurs Be Prevented?
While not all heel spurs can be prevented, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing a spur. This includes wearing well-fitting, supportive footwear, stretching regularly before physical activity, maintaining good technique and form during exercise, not going too hard too fast during exercise and straining your tendons, and keeping conditions like rheumatoid arthritis well managed.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Heel Spurs?
The recovery time for heel spurs can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual’s response to treatment. With proper treatment, you can expect a significant improvement in your symptoms within six to eight weeks. In more severe cases, recovery may take several months.
Can Heel Spurs Come Back After Treatment?
Yes, if the original cause of the heel spur is not properly addressed, then they can recur when the tissues are again repeatedly strained and overused.
Do I Need Surgery For Heel Spurs?
In most cases, no. Most cases of heel spurs can be effectively managed with non-surgical treatments, such as physical therapy, orthotics, and wearing supportive footwear. Surgery is typically reserved for severe cases of heel spurs that do not respond to conservative treatments.
Struggling with heel spurs? Our podiatry team is here to help. We’re proud to offer exceptional podiatry and heel pain care in Remuera, Newmarket and the surrounding areas. Book your appointment with our podiatrists by calling us on 09 523 2333 or book online here.