The x-ray photos of tiny white shark-fins protruding into the fatty pad of the heel, combined with the idea of a pointy, painful growth suddenly appearing is more than a little alarming, and foot folklore abounds when it comes to what heel spurs are capable of–and how they can be banished.
So, what’s the true story of these stealthy, sharp intruders?
In this post, we’ll separate fact from fiction and explore some of the most common truths and myths about heel spurs. After all, when you know the real truth about heel spurs, you can take the right steps to treat them!
#1: Can Heel Spurs Break Off?
TRUE. While uncommon, heel spurs do break off now and then, separating from the heel bone and becoming embedded in the foot’s soft tissues. When this happens, you may notice “locking” of the foot when you walk, and additional pain and discomfort.
The best way to avoid breakage is to treat heel spurs as soon as they become apparent through pain, discomfort, and a sharp jabbing sensation in the heel, especially during the first few steps in the morning. Wearing Heel Seats, which raise the arch to a healthy position and take the pressure off heel spurs, can also minimize the chances of breakage.
#2: Can Heel Spurs Be Removed?
TRUE. While surgery is recommended only after conservative treatments have been unsuccessful after at least one year, heel spurs can be removed through surgical intervention.
Guided by a tiny camera, a surgeon can use precise instruments to cut away the bony fragment protruding into the fatty pad of the heel. Heel spur removal surgery is often accompanied by plantar fascia release surgery, which detaches part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone, relieving stress and pressure on the arch.
Even when it’s determined that surgery is the best option to treat heel spurs, it’s important to take preventative steps to keep the heel spurs from returning, by supporting the arch of the foot and providing proper cushioning and impact absorption through high-quality footwear.
#3: Can Heel Spurs Be Dissolved?
UNCLEAR: While you’ll find numerous blog posts and supplements that claim to dissolve heel spurs, there isn’t a lot of scientific research to back these claims. Some suggest that simple apple cider vinegar added to the diet will dissolve heel spurs. Others insist that a deficiency in K2 and D3 vitamins are a contributing cause to the development of bone spurs, and that supplementing with these vitamins will allow the body to naturally dissolve the spurs.
While these natural remedies are generally harmless (as long as you stay within the prescribed daily recommendations for any vitamin supplement), it’s also vital to continue proven treatments for heel spurs, such as icing, rest, stretches, and the use of orthotic shoe inserts.
#4: Can Heel Spurs Move Around?
MOSTLY FALSE. Heel spurs are the result of calcium deposits that cause bony protrusions to grow out of the heel bone. In general, they stay affixed to one spot, although multiple heel spurs may develop on one heel bone.
In rare cases, the heel spur may break off from the heel bone, becoming embedded in the soft tissue and causing additional pain.
#5: Can Heel Spurs Cause Back Pain or Hip Pain?
TRUE. While heel spurs won’t directly cause back or hip pain, they can contribute to and exacerbate it. Heel spurs, especially when left untreated, will cause your gait to change, as you attempt to avoid the pain from the sharp protrusions. Over time, this can lead to misalignment and strain to the hips and back.
#6: Can Heel Spurs Break Through the Skin?
MYTH. While the sharp, piercing pain from a heel spur can, indeed, feel as though the tiny protrusion is trying to break through the skin, heel spurs cannot break through the skin.
When calcaneal heel spurs become very large, it may be possible to feel them beneath the skin; However, there’s no need to fear that the bony protrusion will actually break through the skin.
#7: Can Heel Spurs Make Your Feet Go Numb?
FALSE. As a general rule, heel spurs and plantar fasciitis will cause swelling, redness, and sharp, stabbing pains–but not numbness. If you’re experiencing numbness in one or both feet, Tarsal Tunnel syndrome is a more likely culprit.
Often confused for plantar fasciitis or heel spurs, Tarsal Tunnel syndrome is a result of compression of the tibial nerve and causes numbness and a “pins and needles” sensation, rather than sharp, stabbing pain.
The Truth About Preventing Heel Spurs
Now that you know the truth about heel spurs, you can take effective steps to prevent and treat them. The best way to avoid the development of new heel spurs or damage and pain from existing footwear is to support the arch of your foot properly. After all, a lack of arch support is one of the most common causes heel spurs develop in the first place!
Wear shoes that fit properly and give your heels and arches adequate cushioning and support. Add orthotic inserts to provide an additional boost in support and lift your arch to the optimal height, keeping heel spurs at bay and relieving pain from existing spurs.
It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight and rest your feet often when you’re required to stand for long periods of time.
Think of heel spurs as your foot’s prickly response to an overworked, over-strained arch. By taking care of that arch properly, most cases of heel spurs can be resolved with minimal mystery!