What are heel spurs?
A heel spur is an extra growth on the bone of the heel that can build up over a long period.
Heel spurs are more common among people who experience heel pain, though the spur doesn’t actually cause any pain.
A heel spur, also known as a calcaneal spur, may stick out by as much as 1.25cm (half an inch).
An X-ray is often needed to confirm a heel spur diagnosis.
Heel spurs are sometimes associated with plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the fibrous band of connective tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot.
Treatments for heel spurs and associated conditions include exercise, orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroid injections. If more conservative treatments fail, an operation may be necessary.
Causes of heel spurs
Heel spurs occur when calcium deposits build up on the underside of the heel bone, a process that usually occurs over a period of many months. Heel spurs are often caused by strains on foot muscles and ligaments, stretching of the plantar fascia and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone. Heel spurs are especially common among athletes who do a lot of running and jumping.
Risk factors for heel spurs include:
- Walking gait abnormalities, which place excessive stress on the heel bone, ligaments and nerves near the heel
- Running or jogging, especially on hard surfaces
- Poorly fitted or badly worn shoes, especially those lacking appropriate arch support
- Excess weight and obesity
Other risk factors associated with plantar fasciitis include:
- Getting older, which decreases plantar fascia flexibility and thins the heel's protective fat pad
- Spending most of the day on your feet
- Frequent short bursts of physical activity
- Having either flat feet or high arches
Symptoms of heel spurs
Heel spurs often have no symptoms, but they can be associated with intermittent or chronic pain. This can often happen while walking, jogging or running if inflammation develops at the point of the spur formation.
In general, the cause of the pain is not the heel spur itself but the soft-tissue injury associated with it.
Many people describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as being like a knife or pin sticking into the bottom of their feet when they first stand up in the morning, a pain that later turns into a dull ache. They often complain that the sharp pain returns when they stand up after sitting for a prolonged period of time.