A heel spur is an annoyance to some and a near-constant source of frustration to others. It is basically an outgrowth of the heel bone that usually results from inflammation near the ligaments, and can be located either underneath or at the back of the heel. Spurs often occur due to inflammation of the Achilles tendon and lead to a great deal of pain, especially when pushing off of the foot. Here’s some information as to why this problem occurs, what you can do about it, and ways you can prevent it from coming back.

Why Do Heel Spurs Form?

There are several tissues and tendons that are attached the calcaneus, or heel bone. Heel spurs can develop due to an injury in the area, typically a repetitive-use injury, such as running or jumping.1 However, spurs can also form due to the following types of inflammatory diseases:

Ankylosing spondylitis

This is a form of arthritis that leads to pain and stiffness in the feet, as well as many other areas of the body.

Reactive arthritis

This type of arthritis is usually caused by a reaction to a bacterial infection. It usually affects not only the heels, but also the fingers, toes, knees, and other joints.2

Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH)

DISH also goes by the name of “Forestier’s disease.” It is usually associated with the spine, but can be present anywhere in the body that calcification, or hardening, of ligaments occurs.
Another reason that heel spurs form is the development of calcium deposits in the area where the plantar fascia tendon separates from the heel. They can sometimes be associated with plantar fasciitis, a condition caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia. Women tend to be at a higher risk for heel spurs because of the kinds of shoes they typically wear.3

Risk Factors

Although women tend to develop heel spurs more than men, no one is immune from developing this problem.4 You will be at a higher risk if you place too much stress on your heel due to the way you walk, if you’re obese, you jog a lot on hard surfaces, or you wear shoes that don’t fit properly.

Older people suffer this problem more often because of a lack of flexibility in the plantar fascia tendon as well as a thinning of the fat pads that protect the heel. Others at a higher risk include people with flat feet, those with high arches, and people who stay on their feet most of the day.

Heel Spurs | Footmedix

Talking to Your Doctor About Heel Spurs

If you are going through so much pain that it starts to interfere with your daily activities, and over-the-counter medicines haven’t helped, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with a doctor. Your family doctor may refer you to a podiatrist or someone such as a rheumatologist, who specializes in problems affecting the joints.

Before you make that visit, however, you should take a few steps to be prepared. That way, the visit will be much more efficient, and you’ll get the information you need to determine the best course of action.

Take Note of Symptoms

For example, write down all of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Make a note of how long they’ve been happening. Write down any other medications you may be taking, and whether or not you have a family history of problems affecting the joints.

But it will also be very important to ask the right questions during your appointment so you will be as well informed as possible regarding the next steps. Find out what types of tests may be necessary, the side effects of any medications the doctor may recommend, and whether or not you may need surgery. Also, find out what you can do at home to manage your symptoms and help keep them from getting worse.

Heel Spurs Treatment Options

Your doctor will more than likely opt for a more conservative approach to try and alleviate your symptoms first. For example, he or she may recommend that you first try stretching exercises. If those don’t work, the next step may be to tape the area to take pressure off of the tendons and muscles that surround the spurs in order to reduce pain.5 A physical therapy regimen may be recommended in conjunction with these more conservative options.

The good news is that surgery is not typically needed for this problem. However, in some severe cases, removal of the spurs may be required. This is usually the last option, and only takes place if conservative methods haven’t proven to be effective after a period of between 9 months to a year.

heel spurs | footmedix

Preventing Heel Spurs

There are several things people can do in order to prevent heel spurs from occurring.

1. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective, because that will help keep added pressure off of your feet.
2. Orthotics help provide extra support to the feet and can also relieve pressure from the heel. Heel cups, for example, not only provide added cushioning to the area, they also absorb the forces that the feet experience on a daily basis.
3. If you do a lot of running, make sure you only purchase stable shoes that have cushioned, supportive soles. This can go a long way toward reducing the chances that the tissues near your heels will become inflamed.
4. Also, make sure you warm up and stretch properly before you start any sort of physical activity.

Spur You into Action

But even though you might take all the precautions you can, you may eventually experience the stabbing pain of heel spurs. Don’t try to tough it out or ignore the problem hoping it will go away. If you don’t take the time to address the situation, your heel spurs will only continue to worsen. Eventually, you might even need surgery that could involve weeks or months of recovery. Talk to your doctor so that the two of you can put together an effective plan of action.

For more resources on foot health, keep reading the DermalMedix blog here:

6 At-Home Stinky Feet Solutions

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Achieve Soft, Smooth Feet

Sources:

1.”Viewer Comments And Reviews: Heel Spurs – Symptoms And Signs – Patients Share Their Knowledge On Emedicinehealth”. eMedicineHealth. N.p., 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

2.”Reactive Arthritis”. Rheumatology.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

3.”Heel Spurs | Foot.Com – The Most Comprehensive Source Of Foot Health And Foot Care Information (Foot Pain, Heel Pain)”. Foot.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

4.”Bone Spurs – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.

5.”Heel Pain | Foot Health | Learn About Feet | APMA”. Apma.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.

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About the Author

Dr. David Watts

Dr. David Watts is a world-famous plastic surgeon working at Johns Hopkins Medical School. He also spent 16 years in the Army Reserve, reaching the rank of Major, and is blessed to have helped thousands of our nation’s soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.