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Common Causes of Heel Spurs and What to Do About Them

A heel spur is a common foot problem that plagues many adults and aging seniors. It is one of the most common causes of chronic heel pain, but most people don’t realize this until it’s too late. 

According to research, about 38% of the general adult population have been diagnosed with a heel spur, and a third have spurs occurring at two sites. Research also found a high incidence rate of heel spurs in seniors 70 years and up, which means a possible correlation between age and its prevalence.

Unfortunately, heel spurs become permanent once they develop. There’s also no definite cure besides surgery, which may not be a possible option for every patient. The next best form of treatment is prevention or early diagnosis.

So, here is everything you need to know about heel spurs一what they are, how they occur, and what to do about them. 

What is a heel spur?

Heel or “calcaneal” spurs refer to a foot condition wherein there’s a bony protrusion growth on the underside of the heel bone or calcaneus. This outgrowth is a calcium deposit that extends from the back of the heel bone to the arch, which can grow up to half an inch. It can occur in the back, plantar, and Achilles parts of the feet.

Heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis. However, these two medical conditions are not the same, but they do have close relations. Here’s how they are associated with each other:

Plantar fasciitis vs Heel spurs 

  • Plantar fasciitis is a medical condition wherein the plantar fascia一a ligament that runs underneath the foot and attaches the heel bone to the base of the toes一gets inflamed. It causes stabbing pain near the heel portion of the foot during movement. 
  • Heel spurs can have a variety of causes, and one of them is due to plantar fasciitis. They often develop as a result of repetitive stress to the heel area, causing bony tissues to form as a defense mechanism. 

Plantar fasciitis doesn’t necessarily result in heel spurs if given the right treatment and management techniques. Such conditions can also subside on their own, unlike heel spurs which are usually permanent unless surgically removed. 

What causes heel spurs?

Generally, heel spurs develop as a response to repetitive stress and strain on the ligaments and tendons in the foot. It can also be due to overstretching and repeated tearing of these structures.

Heel spurs develop over time and result from excessively performing specific activities, such as running and jogging on hard surfaces. Other risk factors that can eventually cause you to develop a bony protrusion include:

  • Gait abnormalities
  • Flat feet or high arches
  • Excessive body weight
  • Poorly fitted shoes
  • Wearing worn shoes or flip-flops too often.
  • Untreated bruising in the heel portion
  • Medical conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis, and diabetes.

What are the symptoms of heel spurs?

Heel spurs are often associated with intermittent or chronic pain caused by the spur that presses on the inflamed soft tissue. That’s why individuals with calcaneal spurs often experience worsening pain during movement. Other symptoms include:

  • Soft tissue inflammation
  • Visible swelling at the front of the heel
  • Mobility problems

However, some heel spurs do not cause any pain at all due to the spur’s different angle growth. Some also do not cause any changes in the soft tissues near the bony outgrowth. Asymptomatic individuals can only typically find out about their heel spur after an X-ray procedure.

How does a Florida foot specialist diagnose a heel spur?

Chronic heel pain and inflammation are generic symptoms that can point to several other foot conditions. That’s why patients should schedule an appointment with a foot specialist or podiatrist who can effectively diagnose the disorder and rule out other medical conditions. 

Physicians usually perform the following diagnostic procedures to confirm a calcaneal spur diagnosis:

  • Physical examination includes palpation of the plantar fascia and checking for signs of tenderness.
  • Medical history evaluation
  • Radiologic imaging exams, such as X-ray, to view the calcification.

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, your doctor will create a treatment plan based on your condition’s severity.

What are the treatment options for heel spurs?

Treatment and management options for heel spurs will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Your podiatrist will recommend a combination of non-surgical treatment techniques to eventually reduce your symptoms. 

You’ll be under a specific treatment plan for at least 6 weeks. If your condition shows promising progress, then your doctor will continue with it for at least 6 months or more. 

Non-surgical treatment options for heel spurs

Some examples of conservative methods include the following:

  • Rest and activity modification 

these two practices prevent the heel spur condition from worsening, which can hasten your recovery time. 

  • Cold compress  

putting a cold compress in the heel area for at least 15 minutes to temporarily numb the area and relieve pain and swelling. 

  • Orthotic shoe inserts 

these assistive devices will help cushion the plantar fascia and provide heel and arch support. However, this is preferably done if the heel spur is associated with plantar fasciitis.

  • Physical therapy 

physiotherapy helps strengthen the foot muscles and reduce pain in the long run. A physical therapist will utilize various stretching exercises to aid the plantar fascia and heel muscles.

  • Pain medications  

your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications to help relieve acute pain in the heel area. Some examples include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin.

  • Anti-inflammatory injections 

if it does not get better with OTC medications, your podiatrist can administer corticosteroid shots to battle both pain and swelling.

Surgery for heel spurs

Most patients (90%) get better after months of combined conservative methods. However, if non-surgical options fail to improve your condition, then your physician will recommend surgery.

The surgical treatment option involves the removal of the spur and the release of the plantar fascia. Patients who undergo such a technique typically experience a significant reduction in pain and an improvement in mobility. 

However, surgical methods rarely happen, and when they do, patients will need to undergo pre-surgical tests to see if they’re good candidates. 

heel pain doctor

Where to find the best heel pain doctor in Florida?

A heel spur may seem like a minute condition, but it can actually cause disabling symptoms for a lot of people. So if you are currently experiencing heel pain, then don’t hesitate to contact Florida Foot and Ankle Associates.

We are a team of board-certified podiatrists specializing in treating various foot-related conditions. We are also an expert in other podiatric practice areas, such as:

Contact us or visit one of our facilities! We have locations throughout South Florida, our specialists serving the Greater Miami Area, including Miami-Dade (Miami, Kendall, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Coral Gables), Broward County (Hollywood, Pembroke Pines), and Palm Beach County (Boca Raton. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

8200 NW 27th St
Suite 108
Doral, FL 33122
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