What's in this article?
The heel bone is the largest bone in the foot and absorbs the most amount of shock and pressure. A heel spur develops as an abnormal growth of the heel bone. Calcium deposits form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel area, causing a bony protrusion, or heel spur to develop. The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue located along the bottom surface of the foot that runs from the heel to the forefoot. Heel spurs can cause extreme pain in the rearfoot, especially while standing or walking.
Who Is At Risk For Heel Bone Spurs?
Though this syndrome is most common in individuals 40 years or older, it can occur at any age. The following factors increase the likelihood of heel spur development:
- An uneven gait which applies too much pressure to certain areas of the foot
- Being overweight
- Wearing worn shoes or ill-fitting footwear
- Job conditions that require long periods spent standing or lifting heavy objects
- The normal aging process which results in a decrease in ligament elasticity
Heel Spur Causes
Heel spurs are most commonly caused by strain injury of the tendons and tissues that attach to the heel bone (calcaneus). This can occur after repetitive athletic stress or strain injury. Heel spurs can also be caused by inflammatory diseases, including reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis.
Symptoms of Heel Spurs
Heel spurs often cause no symptoms. But heel spurs can be associated with intermittent or chronic pain especially while walking, jogging, or running if inflammation develops at the point of the spur formation. In general, the cause of the pain is not the heel spur itself but the soft-tissue injury associated with it.
Many people describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as a knife or pin sticking into the bottom of their feet when they first stand up in the morning a pain that later turns into a dull ache. They often complain that the sharp pain returns after they stand up after sitting for a prolonged period of time.
Treatment for Heel Spurs
Heel spurs are treated by measures that decrease the associated inflammation and avoid reinjury. Local ice applications both reduce pain and inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or injections of cortisone, are often helpful.
Orthotic devices or shoe inserts are used to take pressure off plantar spurs (donut-shaped insert), and heel lifts can reduce stress on the Achilles tendon to relieve painful spurs at the back of the heel. Similarly, sports running shoes with soft, cushioned soles can be helpful in reducing irritation of inflamed tissues from heel spurs. Infrequently, surgery is performed on chronically inflamed spurs.
How Can Heel Spurs Be Prevented?
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don’t choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn’t being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.