The human feet take a beating every day, carrying the full weight of the body and taking the impact of everyday activities such as running, walking, and standing. With over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments; 26 bones; 33 joints; and multiple nerve endings, the feet provide balance and support, making foot health critically important.
There are many problems you can develop with your feet, including heel spurs. While some people will experience no negative symptoms with a spur, others will deal with debilitating pain that interferes with their daily life. If you suspect a bone spur is responsible for your heel pain, a podiatrist can help you with a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Understanding Heel Spurs
A heel spur is a calcium deposit that builds up on the underside of the heel bone, looks like a bony growth, and usually takes many months to develop. Spurs are often caused by repeated tearing of the membrane covering the heel bone, strain put on the foot muscles, and stretching of the plantar fascia—a connecting band of tissue between your heel bone and the base of your toes. Many patients with a heel spur likely don’t notice it until there’s pain.
Common Symptoms of Heel Spurs
- Dull ache in the foot, centralized on the heel area, while remaining seated
- Redness or other discoloration
- Sharp pain when using the affected heel
- Swelling in the heel or ankle
In some cases, the growth never presses against other bones or muscles, and there is no dull ache or sharp pain. In other instances, you can expect moderate to severe pain during any physical activity, and too much physical activity (especially if you’re wearing the wrong footwear) is a common cause of a heel spur.
Causes of Heel Spurs
- Athletic activity, especially regular long-distance running, that places repeated stress on the heel
- Deformities or disorders that affect your gait or overall posture can cause inflammation in the heel
- If you’re overweight or obese, more weight is placed on the heel making it more likely for problems such as heel spurs to develop
- Untreated plantar fasciitis can put unnecessary stress on your heel
- Footwear that puts pressure on the heel, especially high heels or running shoes that are the wrong shape for your feet
How to Handle Heel Pain With Help From a Podiatrist
Before you can treat your heel pain, you need to know the root cause. It’s entirely possible your pain is not caused by a heel spur. That’s why you need to schedule an appointment with an experienced podiatrist for a diagnosis.
After that important first step, your podiatry team will help create a customized treatment plan. Your plan may look different from another patient’s, depending on your lifestyle and overall health. Potential treatments for painful heel spurs can include:
- Footwear changes, which may involve customized orthotics to avoid pressure on the specific area of the heel where the spur is causing discomfort
- Injections at the pain site
- Oral medication for inflammation and pain relief
- Physical therapy for stretching the heel area to increase flexibility and reduce overall pain during strenuous activity such as climbing, running, or walking
- Cold compresses or ice packs at home to reduce inflammation in less severe cases where injections or oral medication isn’t required
- Weight loss plan to put less pressure on your heel spurs over time