The heel is the largest bone within the foot and is connected to a network of tendons, muscles, and ligaments making it prone to pain. One common heel ailment is a heel spur. Heel spurs are small bone-like protrusions that can severely limit a person’s mobility, making even walking around a painful experience. Fortunately for those who suffer from pain related to bone spurs, relief can be found through non-surgical treatment options.
A heel spur is a common foot condition that is defined by a bony-like growth, made from an excess of calcium deposits, that develops from the bottom of your heel bone towards the arch of the foot over time. They are often a result of strain on the muscles and ligaments within the heel and foot.
As the spur grows, they can begin to affect other parts of your foot, growing up to half an inch in length. A heel spur may not always be visible without X-ray and do not always cause symptoms of pain or irritation.
The common symptoms of heel spurs may include the following:
- Dull ache at the heel and bottom of the foot
- Sharp pain at the heel and bottom of the foot
- Inflammation and swelling around the heel area or bottom of the foot
- Small visible bone-like protrusion under the heel
- Tenderness or warmth felt around the heel area
As stated above, sometimes heel spurs may not be visible to the naked eye or present any symptoms.
Heel spurs are often directly caused by long-term muscle and ligament strain due to repetitive stress. Spurs often develop over time and tend to progress as patients ignore early symptoms of pain.
Common causes of heels spurs may include:
- Abnormal walking gaits
- Continued activity on hard surfaces
- Excess weight
- Tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone
- Trauma to the heel
- Wearing improper footwear
- Wearing shoes with inadequate support
Certain conditions such as arthritis and plantar fasciitis can also increase your risk of developing heel spurs.
Heel spurs are generally diagnosed during exams for heel pain or other foot conditions. Your podiatrist will conduct a physical exam and note any inflammation, tenderness, redness, or warmth around the area that may be an indication of a heel spur. Other physical tests and a diagnostic x-ray will be used to confirm a diagnosis.
Many non-surgical treatment options can provide relief from heel spurs. Though permanent, many patients find relief without the need for surgical intervention.
Conservative treatment often consists of rest and lifestyle changes. Applying cold compresses to the area, taking anti-inflammatory medication, and using orthotic inserts and supports within your shoes are all non-surgical treatment options. Additionally, physical therapy exercises and stretches can help to relieve tension and pain along the heel and arch of the foot.
If after several months, conservative treatment does not offer any significant relief, your podiatrist may recommend surgery. This treatment not only reduces pain with the removal of the spur but also improves mobility within the foot.
Following surgery, individuals should anticipate wearing surgical bandages for at least two weeks. It will take time to recover from the surgery before you can place weight on your feet again. Your podiatrist may prescribe crutches or other weight-bearing supports to help you move around during the recovery process. While some patients may recover within a few weeks, it may take several months for patients to make a full recovery after the surgery.
Lower Your Risk
Here are several things you can do to lower your risk of developing heel spurs:
- Do not wear shoes with excess wear on the heels or soles
- Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a well-balanced diet
- Remember to wear the right shoes for each activity
- Stretch before and after you exercise
- Wear shoes that fit your feet properly and have shock-absorbent soles with adequate heel support