Heel Bone Spurs
It shouldn’t hurt to get on your feet in the morning or walk throughout the day. If you notice a sharp, stabbing sensation in your heel with each step you take, you may be suffering from heel spurs.
What Is a Heel Spur?
Also known as “calcaneal spurs,” “foot spurs,” or “osteophytes,” heel spurs are tiny calcium deposits attached to the heel bone (calcaneus). Heel spurs can grow, undetected, over the course of several months or even years before they cause pain. Approximately 1 out of 10 people have heel spurs; however, just 1 in 20 people with heel spurs experience heel pain. For some individuals, as the pointed, hooked, or shelf-shaped calcium deposits grow, they may begin to prod the soft, fatty tissue of the heel–resulting in a stabbing sensation and intense heel pain with every step you take.
The presence of heel spurs is strongly associated with a condition known as Plantar Fasciitis. When the plantar fascia ligament, which runs along the bottom of the foot, is damaged, the body creates calcium deposits on the heel bone in an attempt to repair the damaged fascia. Unfortunately, over time, heel spurs can cause a great deal of pain in addition to damaging the fatty pad of your heel.
Common Causes of Heel Spurs
A compromised, injured arch–or Plantar Fasciitis–is the most common risk factor for developing heel spurs: Approximately 70 percent of people who have been diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis also have heel spurs. The following risk factors are also commonly understood to cause heel spurs:
- Age: Heel spurs are most common in individuals who are 40 years and older because of the resulting decrease in ligament elasticity
- Gait problems: Walking or moving with an uneven gait can apply excessive pressure to certain areas of the foot, resulting in strain and the development of heel spurs
- Being overweight: Carrying extra weight results in more strain and impact to the arch of the foot
- Gender: Heel spurs affect women more often than men, likely because many types of women’s footwear are far less supportive than men’s footwear
- Improper footwear: Wearing old, worn shoes or shoes that don’t fit properly can lead to strain and injuries that prompt the development of heel spurs
- Long periods of standing: Standing for long periods of time or lifting heavy objects on a regular basis, which causes significant strain to the arch of the foot
- Diabetes: Several studies have found a connection between diabetes and heel spurs
- Flat feet or high arches: having arches that are too high or too flat can lead to excessive, repetitive stress on different parts of the heel and foot and the development of heel spurs
While heel spurs are poorly understood, most researchers think that these foot bone spurs are actually the body’s response to strain and micro-injuries in the plantar fascia. The body sends cells to the area that begin to deposit calcium. Over time, these deposits may form sharp protrusions that hurt, not help.
Diagnosing Heel Spurs
Since heel spurs can grow undetected for many months or years, they aren’t typically diagnosed until they start causing heel pain and discomfort while walking.
Many doctors will be comfortable diagnosing the presence of heel spurs with the telltale symptom of sharp, stabbing pain in the heel with each step. However, if your doctor is worried about the possibility of another condition masquerading as a heel spur–like a stress fracture–he or she may confirm the diagnosis with X-rays.
Since many cases of heel spurs are connected to a diagnosis of Plantar Fasciitis, your doctor will likely help you take steps to reduce the pain from heel spurs, while also resolving the root problem of a strained arch.
Home Remedies for Heel Spurs
If you suffer from heel pain caused by foot bone spurs, there’s good news: More than 90% of painful heel spurs can be successfully treated without surgery or medical interventions.
It’s important to treat heel spurs as soon as they become apparent through pain, discomfort, and a sharp jabbing sensation in the heel, especially with those first few steps in the morning. The sooner conservative treatments begin, the sooner pain relief and healing is possible!
Many of the conservative home remedies for treating plantar fasciitis are also helpful in resolving heel spurs. Why? In part, because many cases of heel spurs are a direct result of plantar fasciitis, and in part, because these home remedies take the pressure off the heel bone and strengthen the arch, making it more resistant to strain and injury.
- Rest: Adequate rest, especially after intense physical activity, long periods of standing, or lifting heavy objects allows the plantar fascia and surrounding tissue to heal strain and micro-injuries that can lead to the development or worsening of heel spurs.
- Icing: Regular icing for 20 minutes at a time, especially when you notice redness or inflammation in the heel area, can encourage healing and pain relief in damaged tissue since cooling is known as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic
- Specialized Orthotic Inserts: Orthotic inserts take the pressure off painful heel spurs by lifting and cushioning the damaged plantar fascia ligament
- Stretching Exercises: Stretches strengthen and improve flexibility in the plantar fascia ligament and surrounding tissue, reducing the body’s misguided healing response to create heel spurs
Some individuals have had success in treating heel spurs with non-invasive enzymatic therapy, which influences how the body absorbs calcium. If you suspect your heel spurs may be caused by calcium absorption problems or a calcium deficiency, these supplements can be very helpful. In the same vein, supplements like magnesium that improve bone strength and calcium absorption can also help certain individuals.
Orthotics for Heel Spurs
The best way to heal foot bone spurs, avoid the development of new heel spurs, and address pain is to support the arch of your foot and provide an additional layer of cushioning. After all, a lack of arch support is one of the most common reasons heel spurs develop in the first place!
Specialized orthotic inserts like Heel Seats are one of the most effective methods for treating heel spurs. These orthotics position the arch to an optimal height, preventing the sharp calcium deposits from digging into the fatty heel pad. It’s important to avoid grocery-store orthotics that are little more than simple pads to add a little extra cushioning, not designed specifically to treat heel spurs and Plantar Fasciitis.
Heel Seats incorporate patented Fascia-Bar Technology, which works by applying targeted acupressure to stop pain from heel spurs, then goes to work healing the problems that caused the heel spur or spurs to form in the first place. These unique inserts actually re-stretch the plantar fascia ligament while increasing the density of the heel’s natural fat pad and taking the pressure off heel spurs.
Medical Interventions for Heel Spurs
Heel spur surgery is typically recommended only after conservative treatments have been unsuccessful for at least one year, because of the expense, pain, and potential for complications involved in the surgery. However, if necessary, heel spurs can be removed through surgical intervention.
In heel spur surgery, a surgeon uses 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.
However, even when surgery is the best option to treat heel spurs, it’s still important to prevent new heel spurs from forming by protecting the foot and changing habits. These preventative steps include supporting the arch of the foot with specialized orthotic inserts and wearing high-quality footwear.
While heel spurs can be an unsettling and painful condition, the more you know about their causes, symptoms, and treatment, the more equipped you’ll be to manage them with conservative treatment and effective preventative care!