Posted by Jenn F. on Monday, May 7th, 2012
When you hear someone say “heel spurs,” do you think they mean:
a) something you wear on your heels to make horses go faster
b) quaint wildflowers that grows in picturesque meadows in the spring
c) bony outgrowths on your heel that are associated with other painful foot conditions
If you answered c, you are correct! (I’d like to think that if you realize you are reading a podiatry blog, this wasn’t really that hard.)
You may have heard the term heel spur, possibly on website ads proclaiming “heel that pain” and things like that! However, you may not know exactly what they are. So let’s solve that. I declare today, “Heel Spur Info Day!”
Okay, then let’s start with the basics–what are heel spurs? Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are bony outgrowths on normal bones. They can occur anywhere in the body, but two of the most common locations are in the shoulder and heel. We’re here to talk about the ones in the heel (for shoulder bone spurs, well, go check out a shoulder blog).
What makes them grow? Are they just being pests? No, actually, they’re the unfortunate side effect of your body’s well-meaning attempt to heal itself. When you have another condition, your body tries to solve the problem by building extra bone, thus creating a bone spur. So heel spurs aren’t actually a foot condition in themselves, but rather the outgrowth (literally and figuratively) of another problem.
What kind of problems…? The most common cause of heel spurs is plantar fasciitis. As you no doubt recall, the plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that stretches from the heel to the forefoot. When the plantar fascia is tight or stressed, it can become painful and inflamed. If a person has plantar fascia for a while, a heel spur develops in response to the stress on the heel. Heel spurs can also develop from arthritis, obesity, or wearing poor fitting shoes on a regular basis.
How do I know I have a heel spur? Well, your heel hurts. Since you are most likely already having pain in your heel from another condition, though, the only way to know for sure that you also have a heel spur is to have a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) take x-rays of your heel.
So what happens then? The initial treatment for heel spurs is pretty much the same as it is for plantar fasciitis: ice, rest, anti-inflammatories, stretching exercises to loosen up the tight plantar fascia and associated Achilles tendon. If this doesn’t help with the pain, a doctor may give you a corticosteroid injection to offer some relief, but because of associated side effects with these, most doctors will try to avoid them. A newer treatment, Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy, has been found to be successful in resolving pain from heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. Some people advocate treatments such as deep tissue massage and anti-inflammatory diets to help with pain from heel spurs.
In extreme cases, podiatrists can perform surgery. However, this is more likely to be surgery to release a tight plantar fascia, accompanied with the removal of heel spurs. Surgery simply to remove heel spurs is unusual.
Awesome! My heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are cured! I’ll just go back to whatever I was doing. No, not really–the next step (step, ha ha, get it?) is to address what really caused the plantar fasciitis and thus the heel spurs. If it’s bad shoes, stop wearing bad shoes. If you are overweight, your doctor may suggest you lose weight. If you have flat feet or other biomechanical issues that put stress on your plantar fascia, podiatrists at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can design orthotics that will support your plantar fascia and protect your heel.
See? Now you know all about heel spurs and will no longer suffer the mortal embarrassment of thinking that people are talking about cowboys in The Old West when heel spurs come up in conversation. If you have heel spurs or any other kind of heel or foot issue, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.