Your feet go through a lot in the course of a single day. The force and effects of walking, running, exercises and even just standing for long hours can compile over weeks to start affecting how your feet move and feel. For some people, this can even lead to the pain and discomfort of heel spurs.
What Are Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are a calcium buildup or growth that develops on the heel bone and the surrounding connective tissues. It is a gradually developing condition that might cause little to no discomfort in the earliest stages. Though as time goes on the pain and discomfort of heel spurs can affect your overall mobility as well as impair your quality of life.
What Are The Symptoms Of Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs may present minimal symptoms in the early stages. They can develop on one or both feet at the same time. Some of the increasing symptoms include the following:
- Sharp pain in the heel when standing up for the first time each morning.
- A progressive dull ache in the heel throughout the rest of the day.
- Noticeable inflammation and swelling at the front of the heel.
- The sensation of heat radiating from the affected area.
- A small, noticeable bone-like protrusion develops under the heel.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are essentially calcium deposits that build upon the underside of the heel bone, which is known as the calcaneus. It is a gradual process that typically develops over the course of many months, if not years. Heel spurs can sometimes be caused by something as simple as wearing poorly fitting shoes, or working in a profession where you have to stand on hard floors making load-bearing movements.
Most heel spurs are caused by repetitive strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot. As time goes on this strain can start to stretch the plantar fascia. This effect of repeated micro-tears of the membrane that covers the heel bone can start to encourage calcium deposit buildup. Left unchecked the imbalance and swelling in the surrounding structures of the foot can be very painful and potentially debilitating to your overall mobility.
There are other related conditions or lifestyle factors that can put you at increased risk of suffering heel spurs this includes:
Gradual bone deformations and inflammation can start to affect the heel bone and surrounding structures of the foot putting you at increased risk for heel spurs.
Repeated bruising In The Heel
Bruising can lead to inflammation, which over a longer period of time can start to affect the health of the bones, and connective tissues in the heel, arch, and other portions of the foot.
Excess Body Weight
Overweight individuals tend to exert more force on their feet when they walk, run, stand or jump. This can strain the connective tissues surrounding the heel and the plantar facia, which can put you at increased risk of developing heel spurs.
Poorly Fitting Shoes
Improper arch support or other shoe fit problems can easily start to increase the strain on the plantar facia and other connective tissues or attachments in the foot. This can lead to the calcium deposit build-up of heel spurs. This can include things like wearing overly worn-out shoes or frequently wearing informal footwear like flip flops.
Walking Gait Problems
If you have walking gait issues related to other medical conditions, it can increase the stress on connective tissues in the foot and heel which can gradually put you at increased risk of developing heel spurs.
How Are Heel Spurs Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, heel spurs are not the sort of thing that you can self-diagnose, as many of the symptoms are very similar to other common foot conditions. Improper self-diagnosis can allow heel spurs or other problems to worsen. Heel spurs need to be diagnosed by a medical professional who specializes in foot and bone problems such as a podiatrist or an orthopedic surgeon.
Diagnosing heel spurs typically starts with a physical exam to assess the conditions and structures of the foot. This can also help rule out other foot problems. At that point, the physician will likely order some X-rays to help assess the severity of the calcium buildup as well as determine the severity of influence to other surrounding structures in the heel and arch of the foot.
How Are Heel Spurs Treated?
When caught in the early stages heel spurs can often be addressed or symptoms minimized by non-invasive means. This includes things like:
Applying Cold Compresses
This is part of a general strategy to reduce inflammation which can reduce discomfort.
Certain stretching exercises can be performed on a frequent daily basis to help improve mobility in the foot and reduce some of the strain that can exacerbate heel spur development. Your physician or physical therapist can help you understand which stretching exercises are best for you, how to perform them and how frequently they should be done.
Orthotic Inserts & Shoes
In a lot of heel spur cases, orthotic inserts or specially designed orthotic shoes will go a long way toward reducing discomfort as well as limiting the amount of strain placed on the heel, arch, and connective tissues in the feet.
Some over the counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce the swelling and discomfort of inflammation, while also helping to reduce the buildup of calcium deposits frequently associated with untreated inflammation in the heel.
Corticosteroid injections like cortisone might be needed to address a more severe case of heel spurs related to prolonged inflammation or other complications. This is often part of a larger treatment strategy that involves other methods including stretching exercises and orthotic shoes.
What Is Involved With Heel Spur Surgery?
If your heel spurs do not show progress via non-invasive means, your physician might recommend surgical intervention. This typically calls for either a plantar fascia release or heel spur removal.
With a plantar fascial release, the surgeon carefully removes a part of the plantar fascia ligament. This serves to relieve the tension and inflammation in the surrounding tissue. It can be performed on an outpatient basis and might take up to six weeks for a full recovery.
A heel spur removal might need to be performed in conjunction with a plantar fascia release. This calls for physically removing some of the calcium deposits, and might also increase the overall recovery time to as much as three months.