Here at Richardson Podiatry Associates, we treat patients for a wide array of foot and ankle conditions, including heel pain. The heel is a common source of problems, some of which are attributed to the soft tissues in the area, like the plantar fascia or Achilles tendon. Another cause for discomfort can be bone tissue as well, and this is the case with heel spurs.
The Heel Bone and Bone Spurs
Each foot, including the ankle, is comprised of 26 bones. The largest, and the one that absorbs the greatest amount of pressure and shock, is the heel bone (calcaneus). While the calcaneus is able to handle quite a bit of stress, excessive amounts can lead to the formation of a bone spur.
Bone spurs are the result of calcium deposits made by the body on existing bone tissue. This is done as a protective measure in response to friction or external pressure. Over time, the deposits build up—often at or along an edge of a bone—until it leads to the development of an observable bump. In addition to stress or pressure, spurs sometimes develop as the body repairs tissue lost as a result of osteoporosis.
These boney protrusions do not cause any pain or symptoms on their own. In fact, you can develop one and not even know. When they irritate soft tissue, though, it can create problems, which is the case with spurs that lead to heel pain.
Understanding Heel Spurs
Spurs can develop anywhere, but when they are on the heel bone, we are most likely to find them on the underside. They can extend up to half an inch forward and are a potential culprit behind the pain you experience underneath your heel. The bony projections are often caused when your foot muscles and ligaments are strained, along with repetitive tearing of the membrane that covers your heel bone.
This condition frequently accompanies another common cause of pain under your heel—plantar fasciitis. In that particularly foot issue, your plantar fascia—a thick band of fibrous tissue running along the bottom of the foot—is excessively stretched due to overuse and becomes inflamed. These two, related conditions are especially common among individuals who play tennis and basketball, and also runners.
As noted, heel spurs do not have their own symptoms, but when they cause inflammation in nearby soft tissue, it can be quite painful. Your heel pain can either be intermittent or chronic and should be considered a soft tissue issue. In accordance with plantar fasciitis symptoms, the pain from a heel spur is strongest with the first steps of the day, but then becomes progressively better as the fascia loosens. Of course, you may experience a return of the sharp pain after you stand in one place or sit for a while.
Heel Spur Prevention and Treatment
Preventative steps that you can take to avoid this condition include wearing appropriate footwear for physical activity, easing into new exercise routines, warming up and stretching thoroughly before activities, and simply choosing shoes that fit correctly.
When it comes to treatment, conservative methods are effective for roughly ninety percent of cases. Such care includes:
- Orthotic devices and shoe inserts
- Strapping or taping feet
- Changing shoes
- Physical therapy
Those methods do work for most cases, but it may be necessary to either remove the spur or release tension on the fascia with a surgical procedure. Our goal is to find successful resolution to foot and ankle issues through conservative treatment, though. We will attempt to ease the pain with nonsurgical methods, but you can find comfort in the fact that you are in expert hands if you require surgery.