Many people investigated for heel pain and Plantar Fasciitis will have a heel spur on their foot Xray. However, it is a common misconception that this small spike of bone on the heel, is responsible for the heel pain. In this article Senior Podiatrist, Katie Green, discusses what heel spurs are, why we get them, and the reason they aren’t causing your heel pain!
What are heel spurs?
A spur is a bony growth that occurs where muscles and tendons meet with bones. Spurs that form at the bottom of the heel bone are called plantar calcaneal spurs.
What causes heel spurs to develop and who gets them?
Spurs start as small calcium deposits, over time (many months) these build up creating a spur that is big enough to see on an x ray.
Calcium deposits are part of the body’s healing response and form in response to injury or stress to the heel bone and the surrounding soft tissues. This injury can occur from compression to the heel (due to pressure from body weight and the ground) and from pulling forces on the fascia and muscles in the bottom of the foot.
Heel spurs are more commonly seen in people who are overweight, are very active, are older, who have arthritis and who have diabetes.
How are heel spurs diagnosed?
Heel spurs cannot be felt from the outside of the foot and are often not painful so diagnosis is made using an x ray of the foot.
Are heel spurs painful?
Heel spurs themselves are not often painful. In fact up to 30% of people who have no heel pain will have a spur. In addition to this a lot of people who are experiencing heel pain will not have a spur. A spur can be associated with injury to the large cord like structure in the bottom of the foot called the plantar fascia and injury to this can cause pain.
If it’s not a spur, what is causing my heel pain?
The most common cause of heel pain is Plantar Fasciitis. Less common causes of heel pain include fracture to the heel bone, injury to the fat pad in the heel and injury to the nerves in the heel. If you are experiencing heel pain a Podiatrist can assess you and determine the cause.
How are heel spurs treated?
Treatment is not necessary for a heel spur. If you have heel pain treatments directed at the underlying cause can help.
Many things are promoted or listed for the treatment of heel spurs. Natural remedies such as Epsom salts and massage with essential oils will not have any effect on the spur (nor are they able to get through the soft tissues and muscles in your foot to reach where the spur is.)
Heel spur pads and cushioned footwear can help to reduce pressure on the heel and can help with some causes of heel pain but will not make the spur go away.
Arch supports called orthotics and certain exercises can help reduce strain on the plantar fascia can help with pain caused by plantar fasciitis but again will not make a spur disappear.
Will heel spurs go away on their own?
Heel spurs will not go away unless they are surgically removed. If you have heel pain it can be treated and can go away. If an x-ray shows a heel spur when pain is present, a follow up x-ray once pain has gone away will still show the same spur
If you would like to learn more about Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis, and for links to useful resources, please visit our Plantar Fasciitis Page.