What are Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are small bony outgrowths which form on the heel bone (calcaneus). Heel spurs may be present and cause no symptoms, however frequently the bone spurs can cause irritation of muscles, ligaments and tendons causing inflammation and sometimes intense pain when pressure is exerted on the heel, such as by walking. Heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis, and can be caused in response to the condition or can be a causative factor in its development. Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are often used interchangeably, even by doctors and medical professional; however they are not the same. The confusion often arises as both conditions may be present at the same time, they share some causative factors, and each can cause each other – plantar fasciitis can cause heel spurs, heel spurs can cause plantar fasciitis.
Patients who have plantar fasciitis commonly develop heel spurs, especially when plantar fasciitis has been allowed to deteriorate or go untreated for a long period. This is because heel spur formation can be due to irritation of the soft tissues located in the heel.
Causes of Heel Spurs
The most common cause of heel spurs is plantar fasciitis. Sufferers of heel spurs are typically – although not exclusively – are of middle age or over. Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis also commonly affect the highly active, although even people who lead a largely sedentary lifestyle and take part in little to no exercise may also develop bone spurs on the heel.
The name ‘heel spur’ sounds like it is a sharp pointed fragment of bone which digs into tissues and causes considerable pain and damage, however this is rarely the case. The bone spur will probably be smooth, although it can still cause considerable discomfort when the weight is exerted on it directly, and it can still irritate the surrounding tissues such as the plantar fascia. Heel spurs are simply new bone which has been formed in response to a causative agent; usually irritation, inflammation, pressure or rubbing. They can form underneath the heel where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone, at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon attaches, or on any part of the heel in response to pressure and rubbing from footwear. They can be small and therefore invisible to the naked eye, or can be quite noticeable, especially when they form on the back of the heel in response to tight fitting shoes. Women are particularly prone to heel spurs after frequent use of tight shoes, with pumps often causing a bump to appear on the back of the heel due to rubbing.
Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis
Heel spurs which are not accompanied by plantar fasciitis often have ambiguous causes, and it may not be possible to determine exactly how or why they have formed. To find out how heel spurs form, it is easiest to look at the causes of plantar fasciitis. This painful foot condition affects the plantar fascia, a fibrous tissue which connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot. When walking, running, climbing or jumping, stress is placed on the plantar fascia. Whilst this structure is more than able to deal with everyday forces and shocks, sometimes when extra stress is applied during a sporting activity or over a prolonged period of time, small tears can form in the plantar fascia which leads to inflammation and intense pain.
If there is a weakness in this tissue it can also make it prone to injury, as can a tight Achilles tendon as this in turn causes overstretching of the plantar fascia. All of these causitive factors for plantar fasciitis can also cause heel spurs to form.
Plantar fasciitis commonly affects athletes and sports enthusiasts, especially those who partake in high impact activities which place the plantar fascia and the foot arches under high levels of stress and strain. As the body ages and weakens, the chances of developing heel spurs increases as well. When extra force acts on the plantar fascia such as when weight is put on suddenly as with pregnancy, or when people are overweight or obese, the chances of developing heel spurs and accompanying plantar fasciitis also increases.
Cures and Treatment of Heel Spurs
The conservative treatment of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is similar; although when heel spurs have formed surgery may be required to remove the spurs. Heel spur removal is considered to be a last resort, and is used when non invasive treatments for heel spurs have proved to be ineffective. Conservative treatments and home remedies for heel spurs are concerned with easing the pressure exerted on the spurs, and in providing extra cushioning for the heel. When the plantar fascia or the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, treatment for heel spurs becomes secondary until the inflammation has been controlled.
How to Cure Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis
Treating heel spurs is not about removing them, as that can only be achieved by surgery. Heel spur treatment is about reducing the painful symptoms and any inflammation of the surrounding tissues. After inflammation has been reduced – and therefore the accompanying pain – heel spur sufferer can prevent further pain and discomfort by easing the pressure exerted on the bone spurs. Some of the most effective treatments for heel spurs are detailed below:
- Rest – The primary step which will get you well on the road to recovery is resting the affected foot. You should discontinue jogging and other high impact athletic activities and sit it out. Relaxing and resting the affected foot speeds up the recovery process by preventing further irritation
- Ice – Massaging the foot with ice for 15 minutes a day will help ease any pain, swelling and inflammation.Ice should not be applied directly to the skin
- Perform stretching exercises – Stretching the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon twice daily and performing specific stretches and exercises will help to keep the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon supple, which can help to prevent heel spur pain
- Pain Medication – Medication which reduces inflammation can be helpful, especially in reducing any inflammation and heel spur pain. Ibuprofen is a good over the counter medication to help ease inflammation and pain. Be sure to read the indications carefully, and do not overdo it. Ibuprofen taken in excess can cause serious health problems
- Orthotic inserts, orthopedic shoes, heel seats, braces and splints – These are all effective treatment options made specifically to speed up recovery from heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.
- Corticosteroid injections – Injection of steroids into the affected tissues can rapidly reduce heel spur pain and inflammation. This is far from an ideal treatment however, as cortisone can reduce the density of the heel fat pad, which can lead to more painful episodes in future. Injections into the plantar fascia can also cause further trauma to the tissue