Heel Spurs – What, Where, Why, and How to Fix Them
What are Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are abnormal growths which grow on the heel bone (calcaneus) and can be found at the back of the heel or, more frequently under the heel where the plantar fascia attaches to the bone. The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of tissue that extends from the heel bone (calcaneus) to the ball of the foot or forefoot. When this tissue pulls away from the heel, calcium deposits form and cause a nail-like growth to develop on the bone that can grow into the flesh of the foot.
What are the Symptoms of Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs can cause extreme pain in the heel while standing, walking or with sudden forceful actions such as jumping. When you place your weight on your heel, the heel pain can be powerful enough to immobilize you. Most people find the pain is most severe when they start walking after a rest period, such as when they get out of bed in the morning. However, continued walking and standing can cause the entire heel to become tender as well.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
As mentioned above, calcium deposits that are laid down as the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel is the most common cause. The plantar fascia is stretched every time you strike your foot on the ground, so this cannot easily be avoided. Excessive stretching of the plantar fascia is usually due to overpronation or pes cavus. Overpronation is often described as flat feet whereas pes cavus is a condition associated with very high arches. People with these conditions are prone to develop heel spurs. Women are also more prone to develop them due to the footwear they often choose.
How Do You Treat Heel Spurs?
The treatment of choice is arch supports or foot orthotics. If your heel spurs are due to flat feet, foot orthotics (arch supports) may have rearfoot or forefoot posting and longitudinal arch support which will work towards helping you distribute your weight more evenly and tipping the foot into a more appropriate position. If high arches are causing your problem, your orthotic will cushion the heel and help absorb the shock while again working towards distributing your weight more evenly when walking. Many will incorporate a horseshoe pad or spur pad that surrounds the heel that takes pressure away from the affected area.
Other treatments for heel spurs may include stretching exercises, heel cradles or cups, losing weight, and wearing appropriate shoes. To assist with heel spurs, look for a shoe that has a cushioned heel to absorb shock and protect the heel. Make sure it is stable enough to help control pronation.
Temporary treatment may include elevating the foot, rest and applying ice to reduce inflammation. Physical Therapists/ physiotherapists can also offer temporary relief through pain control modalities and exercise programs to stretch the plantar fascia and strengthen the muscles in the foot. Injections or surgery are options of last resort.
In extreme cases, when surgical removal of heel spurs is necessary, the surgery does not address the underlying cause of improper foot alignment. In these cases, there is a high rate of the problem returning if the underlying position of the foot is not corrected with orthotic arch supports.
Copyright 2010 Roderick MacKenzie / MacKenzie Orthotics
Roderick MacKenzie BScPT, C.Ped.(C) is a certified pedorthist and former physiotherapist (physical therapist) with 15 years of experience in foot care. He has designed the new MacKenzie Orthotics line of foot orthotics… to bridge the gap between ineffective over the counter arch supports and expensive custom foot orthotic devices. One of his designs is an arch support for heel spurs, specifically geared to alleviate pain due to that condition.
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