Heel Spurs

What is a heel spur?

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A heel spur is a foot condition caused by a bony-like growth. The growth, resulting from a build-up of calcium, extends from your heel bone to your arch.

Heel spurs typically begin in the front of and beneath your heel. If left untreated, a heel spur will affect other areas of your foot. Heel spurs can grow as long as half an inch. However, people can struggle to notice heel spurs since they do not always cause pain.

If you are concerned or suspect that you may have spurs, you shouldn’t wait to see a doctor. Make an appointment today to get the treatment and symptom relief you need.

What causes heel spurs?

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Long-term muscle and ligament strain cause heel spurs. The extreme strain stresses the heel bone and leads to the development of spurs. Heel spurs do not immediately form in your foot. They develop over time and worsen if you ignore the early symptoms.

The most common causes of heel spurs include repetitive stress from walking or running. The causes can also include jumping on hard surfaces. Heel spurs can also develop due to:

  • Arthritis
  • Heel bruising
  • Excess body weight
  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Walking gait
  • Old shoes
  • Frequently wearing flip-flops

How can you identify a heel spur?

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Heel spur symptoms vary depending on the severity. The symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Heel swelling at the front
  • Warmth in the affected area

Heel spur symptoms can spread all the way to the arch of your foot. If you leave a heel spur untreated, part of your bone may start to protrude. Still, some individuals will never see any tissue or bone changes around the heel.

More intensive medical testing is sometimes necessary to identify a heel spur. You should speak with your physician about whether these tests are necessary for you.

Are there any risk factors for developing heel spurs?

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Along with the previously mentioned risk factors, some conditions can make certain individuals more prone to developing heel spurs. Many people with heel spurs have already developed a condition known as plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition and one of the most common causes of heel pain. The condition causes the band of tissue that supports your foot’s arch to become inflamed or irritated. Plantar fasciitis results in a greater likelihood of developing heel spurs.

Many consider these conditions to be interchangeable, but they are distinctly different. Plantar fasciitis resolves on its own after weeks or months of healing. By contrast, a heel spur remains permanently in the heel. The only way to remove heel spurs is through surgery, though doctors rarely recommend this.

What is the difference between a heel spur, a corn, and a bunion?

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Like heel spurs, excessive pressure can cause other sources of foot pain. Two types of pain may come from developing a corn or a bunion. Before speaking with your doctor, it helps to know the difference between corns and bunions.

  • Corns: Unlike a heel spur, corns develop outside of the foot. A corn is an area of thick skin. Our feet develop corns due to excessive pressure or friction. Corns develop most commonly on the top of the toes. Corns can also form between the toes, on the back of the heels, or even on top of the foot. While heel spurs can become external, they do not start that way. A heel spur is also not skin-related.
  • Bunions: People may more easily confuse bunions with bone spurs than corns. A bunion is a bony bump. It does not form on your heel like a spur. Bunions form on the joint at your big toe’s base. Bunions develop when bones at the front of your foot shift out of place. You can get bone spurs due to arthritis at the top of the big toe’s joint. But these differ from bunions since bunions appear on the side of the foot.

If these describe your foot symptoms or present discomfort, you should make an appointment with an orthopedist or podiatrist. A specialized doctor can help you to decide what next steps you should take in your foot health.

How is a heel spur diagnosed?

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Most people require medical assistance before they can properly diagnose a heel spur. Heel spur symptoms present themselves like other types of foot and heel issues, so it is essential for a physician to physically examine the patient. Once you schedule a medical appointment, there are several ways that a doctor may diagnose a heel spur:

  • Physical Examination: A doctor will conduct a physical foot exam prior to ordering any imaging tests. They will observe the foot for any redness or inflammation. A doctor also checks for any tender areas.
  • Physical Test: A podiatrist may ask you to perform a physical test. The test can include standing on one foot at a time. Another physical test may include taking a short walk.
  • X-ray/Imaging Tests: Doctors and patients are often unable to see bony protrusions without the assistance of medical imaging. These imaging tests for other foot-related concerns often unintentionally reveal the presence of a heel spur.

When should you see a doctor for heel spurs?

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You can minimize and eliminate heel pain with proper home care. However, some heel pain is ongoing and requires immediate medical attention. Visit your primary doctor if you experience:

  • Severe pain and/or swelling in the heel area.
  • Tingling or numbness in your heel.
  • Lack of Mobility: You should make a doctor’s appointment if you cannot bend your foot, rise on your toes, or normally walk.
  • Sudden Sickness: Don’t postpone seeking medical attention if your heel pain leads to a fever.
  • An Injury: Heels can sustain significant injuries. If you have significant heel pain following an injury, immediately schedule an appointment with a doctor.
  • Ongoing Pain: Do not avoid medical assistance if your heel pain continues even when you do not walk or stand. First, you can try rest, ice and other home treatments. But if your heel pain continues for weeks, speak with a doctor.

What are common heel spur treatments?

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Most often, heel spur treatments consist of individual lifestyle changes. You may find that certain treatments work better for you than others. At-home treatment options can include:

  • Cold Compresses: Use compresses or an ice pack for 15-minute intervals. Numbing the affected area can relieve heel spur discomfort or pain. Cold compresses also help reduce swelling. Avoid using heat packs on your heel.
  • Physical Therapy/Stretching Exercises: These methods can help prevent long-term pain. Heel spur exercises involve stretching the heel muscle. A physical therapist can instruct you which exercises you can perform in your home. The exercises may include:
  1. Wall calf stretches
  2. Step calf stretches
  3. Towel grabs using your toes
  4. Foot rolls using a golf/tennis ball
  5. Foot flexes while seated

These exercises can be done during any time of the day. However, a doctor may suggest that you perform them at night before you go to sleep.

  • Rest: Doctors most commonly recommend getting some rest if you have heel spurs. Rest helps lessen acute pain. Minimizing the pressure also prevents causing further damage or pain. Make sure to rest after standing, long walks, or strenuous activities.
  • Supportive Footwear: Avoid worn-out footwear or flip-flops that do not offer support. You can also purchase orthotic shoe inserts. These provide you with better arch and heel support. Heel pads help minimize more wear and tear.

Alternative treatments for heel spurs can involve medicinal or surgical options. Make sure to speak with your doctor prior to exploring the following treatment avenues:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: A podiatrist will sometimes recommend giving you a corticosteroid shot for severe pain. The shot is an anti-inflammatory injection that can reduce heel and arch pain.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Medication: While physical therapy provides long-term relief, over-the-counter medication offers short-term pain management. A doctor may suggest taking Tylenol, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Speak with a doctor first about any other prescribed medications. Blood thinners can prevent you from taking certain OTC pain relievers.
  • Essential Oils: Certain essential oils act as anti-inflammatories, though they are not a proven cure for heel spurs. You can also massage the oils into your heel for additional relief. Common anti-inflammatory oils include: bergamot oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, rosemary oil, and sesame oil. That said, we recommend speaking first with a professional when applying any oils. These types have medicinal properties. Incorrect application can result in side effects.
  • Surgery: A doctor may recommend surgery for severe heel spurs. It is not common for someone who only has a heel spur. It involves removing the spur and often releasing the tissue at the bottom of your foot. The goal of the surgery is boosting your foot’s mobility.

Are there any steps people can take to prevent heel spurs?

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The best way for you to prevent heel spurs is monitoring your foot health. Notice the stress you place on your feet and give your feet rest. Do not push through heel pain or avoid visits to the doctor when they are necessary.