There is a lot about our feet we take for granted, including the sturdiness of them as they contact the ground. Sometimes, though, we can develop heel spurs, a painful condition that makes our steps less certain. Here’s what you need to know about this condition and how to treat it.
What are heel spurs?
Heel spurs (also called bone spurs) are hooks of bone that protrude from the bottom of the foot where your plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. Your plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs the length of the bottom of the foot. Over time, this bone hook can build up as a result of the tension of plantar fasciitis, a debilitating and painful inflammation of the plantar fascia.
Bone building occurs frequently in patients with plantar fasciitis. An estimated 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis also have heel spurs. These two conditions are so closely connected that when heel spurs are found on an X-ray, they are used as evidence that a patient is also suffering from plantar fasciitis.
Heel spurs are most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged men and women. Those who are overweight or obese, or start a new higher intensity workout program, are more at risk.
What are the common heel spur causes?
Plantar fasciitis is the major cause of heel spurs, so it’s important to look at conditions that cause that painful inflammation. Plantar fasciitis is typically caused by repetitive stress such as walking, running, and dancing (intensely and over time).
Causes for heel spurs also include the following:
- Sudden increase or change in activity
- Lack of arch support or poor shoe choice
- Inflexibility in Achilles tendon and calf muscles
- Excessive time spent standing up
As we get older, age-related arthritis may cause of bone loss in some areas, with a corresponding loss of the natural cushioning under your heel. The bone that remains is excessively stimulated and begins to press down to the ground, causing pain.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome can also be to blame.
In the United States, the most likely cause of heel spurs is being overweight. With more than 60% of the nation obese or morbidly obese, foot pain related to obesity is increasing as we ask our feet to support more weight.
Getting a heel spur diagnosis
Heel spurs are most often diagnosed when a patient visits their doctor for chronic and intense foot pain that doesn’t go away over time.
Many patients first receive a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs are confirmed with an X-ray of the foot.
How to treat heel spurs
A first-line treatment for bone spurs and plantar fasciitis is weight loss. Not only does maintaining a healthy weight improve overall health, dietary changes leading to weight loss are most likely to cause long-term relief for bone spurs and plantar fasciitis.
Other heel spur treatments include:
- Stretching: Stretching the foot and calf muscles several times daily is critical in providing tension relief for the plantar fascia. Some physicians may recommend using a step to stretch, while others may encourage yoga or pushing against a wall to stretch.
- Myofascial release: Putting weight in a tennis ball or a golf ball and rolling it over the entire bottom of the foot loosens fascia and releases painful tension.
- Icing after activity: A frozen tennis ball can also provide relief. Rolling the tennis ball under the arch of your foot after exercise can lessen pain in the area.
- Taping: Tape that crisscrosses the arches and offers support can help to prevent injury and relieve pain. Several manufacturers of sports tape have plantar fascia specific lines.
- Orthotics and shoes: Orthotics and plantar fasciitis shoes are a good idea for those on their feet during the day. Orthotics can provide cushioning, arch support, and pain relief.
- Cortisone shots: Cortisone shots in the fascia can provide temporary anti-inflammatory relief that allows you to return to normal activity levels and work on other treatments.