Heel spurs are among the many possible causes of heel pain. But did you know that this often-misunderstood condition is more likely to be one of the results of your discomfort, rather than the primary cause?
Let’s take a closer look at this condition, including why it occurs, what the symptoms might be, and whether you need treatment—and if so, what that treatment might look like.
What is a heel spur?
A heel spur is, simply, a bone spur that forms on the heel bone—usually extending forward toward the toes along the bottom of the foot. It is made from hard deposits of calcium that build up over time.
Although they start small, heel spurs can grow to half an inch or longer in length!
Why do Heel Spurs Form?
Spurs are actually a byproduct of your body’s attempts to defend and repair itself. Most of the time, heel spurs are preceded by a chronic case of plantar fasciitis, which is the most common heel pain condition among American adults.
If you have plantar fasciitis, the long and tough band of tissue running along the bottom of your foot (the plantar fascia) becomes stretched, torn, or inflamed—usually right in front of the underside of the heel. The membrane that covers the heel bone itself may be torn repeatedly.
This pulling away of soft tissue from bone, and long-term inflammation, acts as a signal to your body to begin depositing calcium on the exposed bone.
What Are the Symptoms of Heel Spurs?
Surprisingly, most heel spurs are themselves painless. Usually the soft tissue injury (plantar fasciitis) remains the central problem, and once it is reversed you often no longer experience any pain.
However, spurs that are particularly large or inconveniently placed may themselves trigger inflammation or pain if they are pressing on sensitive nerves or tissues. Symptoms tend to be worst during activity—running, sports, a long workday, etc.
Do Heel Spurs Need Treatment?
If the heel spur itself is not causing you any discomfort or limiting your activities, there is no need to treat or remove it. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to discover heel spurs that our patients didn’t even know they had after taking an X-ray for an unrelated problem.
Of course, if the spur is a primary cause of pain, then it absolutely should be treated. Heel pain is never normal, and we can help.
Heel Spur Treatment Options
Whenever possible, our preference is to use non-surgical means. Although this will not remove or reduce the size of the spur, it may keep it from growing worse, as well as provide symptom relief.
The first step is to treat the underlying plantar fasciitis, if it is still causing problems. In addition to traditional remedies like rest, stretching exercises, shoe changes, or night splints, we can also offer accelerated soft tissue healing therapies such as laser treatment and regenerative injections.
Custom orthotics may also be appropriate in many cases. The right pair can add extra cushioning for the heels, divert pressure and impact forces away from sensitive areas, or even functionally correct biomechanical flaws that contribute to heel pain.
More than 9 out of 10 people with heel spurs find conservative treatments sufficient to relieve their pain—whether the discomfort was caused by plantar fasciitis, or due to the heel spur itself.
However, heel spur pain that persists despite non-surgical treatments may require surgery to fix. This may include releasing the plantar fascia tissue to relieve the pressure, or removing the bony spur itself. If surgery is required in your case, we’ll be sure to carefully review all your options and instructions for pre- and post-surgical care.
Don’t let heel pain stop you from living life to the fullest—whether spurs are to blame or not. To schedule an appointment with our team in Lee’s Summit, MO, please call (816) 246-4222 today.