What is a Heel Spur?
A heel spur is calcium deposit located underneath the heel that causes small pieces of bone to protrude. Pain associated with heel spurs is often confused with another condition called plantar fasciitis—which refers to inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament. A heel spur, on the other hand, is a piece of bone that forms on the heel bone itself.
In most cases, heel spurs do not cause any symptoms, although there are cases where heel spurs are associated with intermittent or chronic pain. However, the heel spur itself is not necessarily the root of the pain. Instead, the pain is attributed to the inflammation or irritation of the plantar fascia ligament. Pain is usually worst in the morning when you first wake up, but it recedes as ligaments loosen.
Heel Spur Causes
Heel spurs take months to develop and may go completely unnoticed. Heel spurs are most often a result of too much stress or pressure on the ligaments in the foot. They can also be the result of repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone. The same physical activities that cause plantar fasciitis can result in heel spurs.
Other significant factors that contribute to the development of heel spurs include:
- Mechanical defects that cause gait abnormalities
- Tight calf muscles that limit ankle flexibility
- Being overweight or obese
- Poor shoe choice
- Activities that demand extended time on your feet
Heel spurs cannot be diagnosed through a physical exam; they can only be seen using an x-ray. In fact, many heel spurs are diagnosed based off images your doctor takes while looking for something else. When heel pain persists for more than a month, you should contact your podiatrist. He or she may recommend the following non-invasive treatment methods:
- Various stretching exercises
- Shoe replacement
- Custom orthotics
- Physical therapy
Most cases of heel pain can be treated with conservative methods, but anti-inflammatory medications or injections may also be recommended. These medications not only reduce pain, but inflammation too.