On the outside of a riding boot, a spur is a small, extended metal tool that helps guide a horse to speed up, slow down, or move side to side. There’s another type of spur, though, commonly associated with the feet: a heel spur, also known as a calcaneal spur.
This spur is different. It is a bony growth that from inside your feet, protruding forward from bottom of your heel bone, and can form in response to repetitive stress and injury.
How Spurs Form
So what exactly are heel spurs, and how do they form?
Let’s start with the plantar fascia, a fibrous band of tissue that connects to underside of your heel bone and supports your arch. The plantar fascia is designed to absorb shocks from walking and running, but it can get pulled, stretched, swollen, and even torn due to repetitive stress—this is known as plantar fasciitis.
When that happens, deposits of calcium build up on the underside of the heel bone, facing forward. Over time, this bony protrusion can reach up to half an inch in length.
Certain conditions or activities can increase your risk of plantar fasciitis, and thus, heel spurs. Frequent bursts of athletic activity (especially if running, jumping, and/or hard surfaces are involved), poor choices of footwear, and mechanical issues such as flat feet or overpronation are a few common risk factors.
Are Heel Spurs Causing My Foot Pain?
Possibly, although heel spurs themselves are often asymptomatic and not the real issue. Instead, it’s the plantar fasciitis—the soft tissue tearing and swelling—that’s usually the biggest factor. In fact, many people live with heel spurs for years and never even realize it until they get an X-ray of the area for a different problem.
However, there may be some cases where a particularly large or inconveniently placed heel spur can cause additional discomfort and swelling by pressing on surrounding soft tissues when you stand and walk. You may feel a sharp pain when getting up from bed or a rest, which may recede into a dull ache.
Healing Your Heels When Spurs Are Present
Conservative treatments are generally selected first when dealing with heel pain, whether or not heel spurs are present.
Typical simple strategies and tools that may be considered include:
- Rest, icing, or OTC medications for pain management and inflammation control
- Modifying behaviors (for example, do less hard running and mix in some low-impact exercise instead)
- Making sure you have the right pair of shoes for your activity
- Stretching exercises and physical therapy
- Splints to wear at night that keep your plantar fascia in a stretched position
- Shoe inserts or custom orthotics to add cushioning or accommodate structural flaws
Our office also provides more advanced remedies as alternatives to surgery that might be chosen if simple strategies prove insufficient. This includes shockwave therapy, platelet-rich plasma therapy, laser therapy, and amniotic tissue treatments.
In the vast majority of cases, a combination of the above strategies, tools, or therapies will provide lasting relief by healing the associated soft tissue damage. However, if chronic pain continues to persist, surgical treatment to release the plantar fascia and/or remove the bone spur remains as a last resort.
If you have persistent pain in your heels, the best thing you can do is make a call to Dr. Corey Fox of Massapequa Podiatry Associates and Long Island Heel Pain. Our Long Island office and staff is specially equipped and trained to handle a wide variety of heel pain conditions, including spurs. You can fill out our online contact form and have a member of our staff contact you for follow up, or you can give us a call at 516-541-9000.