Heel spurs (calcaneal spur)
Last update: 1 November 2019
Heel spurs (calcaneal spur)
If you suffer from pain in your heel, you may be dealing with heel spurs. This calcification under the heel is very common.
Does it hurt when you place your heel on the ground?
Heel spur, or calcaneal spur, is a bone excrescence located in your heel. This anatomical structure is usually visible in an X-ray (radiography).
Often, people who suffer from heel spurs experience heel pain during the first steps in the morning or after sitting for a long time. They may also feel a sharp pain similar to a pinprick in the heel.
This structure is normally visible through imagery, very difficult to feel, and it must not be broken.
Heel spurs do not normally display any symptoms. Most people with this condition do not feel any pain in the heel while walking or standing for long periods of time.
This is actually a method your body uses to strengthen the attachment of your plantar fascia and prevent the sensation of pain under your heel. It is also a sign that your plantar fascia is working hard to prevent your foot’s arch from collapsing.
We can say that the heel spur is beneficial to your foot, because it helps to strengthen it.
The real problem is the tension that your plantar fascia places on your heel.
Heel spurs are multi-factorial, that is, they may be caused by a variety of predisposing factors:
- Heredity: if other members of your family suffer from this pathology, you may also be at risk.
- Your type of work: if you must walk, lift things or stand continually at work, it puts great pressure on your feet and even more pressure on your plantar fascia. This situation may cause a problem in the long run. Your fascia then pulls on the area where your calcaneal spur forms.
- Being overweight: people with weight issues will be more likely to develop this type of pathology.
- Your foot type: a high-arched foot with a very taut plantar fascia will create more tension on the heel bone. The flat foot, when sagging, places a lot of tension on the fascia, the main mechanism preventing your foot from flattening completely on the ground.
- Physical activities: jogging, for example, increases the ground impact your foot must absorb by about 3 to 5 times, compared to normal walking. Once again, to allow you to continue your activities, your body may strengthen your fascia through calcification.
- Trauma: your facia may be calcified as a result of a trauma (for example, your heel smashed down on the ground), which is a significant factor.
- Arthritis: some types of arthritis promote the appearance of particularly large and irregular spurs. These spurs represent a greater risk of discomfort under your heel than a regular heel spur. Those affected normally have to deal with calcification at the insertion of their Achilles tendon.
- Type of shoes: stay away from shoes that do not fit properly, are too soft or that lack absorption qualities. These shoes introduce additional strain on the fascia, which increases your risk of developing a heel spur.
- Walking barefoot: avoid walking barefoot. This takes a toll on your plantar fascia.
Preventing heel spurs
On the preventive side, there is little you can do besides the following recommendations:
- Shoes: always wear proper footwear that is comfortable, firm and well cushioned.
- Physical exercises: if you have any symptoms, avoid activities that create undue foot impact or involve jumping.
- Weight: watch your body weight and maintain a healthy body weight.
In the event you experience periodic pain in your heel, don’t hesitate to consult a podiatrist for a full preventive assessment.
Also be attentive to your body’s messages: it is your best guide to good health.
Treating heel spurs
A priori, treating heel spurs is not necessary. In fact, as long as it does not affect our plantar fascia, you will not experience any inflammatory pain.
However, when your calcaneal spur becomes a source of pain, there are several options available to you:
- X-ray: start by verifying if there is a spur fracture. If this is the case, but it is not too displaced, it must be immobilized.
- Wearing a heel pad: this option will help if there is a spur associated with adipose atrophy (a decrease in adipose tissue).
- Plantar orthotics and pads: if you also suffer from arthritis, your podiatrist will have to remove any dystrophic calcification. The orthotics and pads will help to ease any pain in your heel.
- Surgery: if it is impossible de relieve your pain, surgery may be considered to remove a section of the spur. However, this is a solution used as a last resort, as it affects your body’s biomechanics.
Other heel pain
Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia), responsible for 80% of heel pain, is very common and limits you in your daily activities. However, other conditions can be the cause of pain under the heel:
- Baxter’s neuritis: pain resulting from compression of the calcaneal nerve that can cause pain in the heel region.
- Achilles tendonitis: pain localized behind the heel.
- Tendinitis of the posterior tibial muscle: symptoms primarily located in front of the heel, rising towards the inside of your ankle.