Have you ever experienced an unexplained pain in your heel and wondered what was causing it? One of the biggest misconceptions about heel pain is that it can’t be treated, with many people attempting to go about their everyday business in constant (and unnecessary) discomfort.
As many people suffering with heel pain soon come to realize, what starts out as something you might be able to ignore can become debilitating if left untreated. Our heels get a lot of use everyday to do the most basic of things, from buying groceries to picking up the kids. Seeking advice as soon as you experience heel pain is vital to making sure no long-term damage is done to your foot.
To avoid chronic pain, or the need for more extensive care, a simple call to a specialist is all it might take to give you back a higher quality of life!
While heel pain can be connected to several conditions, one of the most common conditions is heel spurs. To help you recognize when you might be experiencing heel spurs (and when it might be something else), we’ve put together a list of key points to help you get relief as quickly as possible.
What is a heel spur?
First things first. Heel spurs, also called bone spurs or calcaneal spurs, are a type of growth that develop below your heel bone due to calcium deposits that build up over time. They can also develop at the back of the heel, where the Achilles tendon inserts into the bone. Because these deposits grow inside your foot, they often go unnoticed until symptoms begin to present. While some heel spurs are painless, others can cause significant discomfort if not correctly tended to.
Because these growths cause a bony protrusion on the bottom of the heel, they can cause extensive inflammation around the heel bone. This means that the more impact or weight placed on your heel, the more likely you are to make the condition worse.
While athletes or people working on their feet all day are most likely to notice the increasing discomfort caused by heel spurs, a sudden onset of symptoms related to the condition can happen to anyone.
Even though spurs are commonly found in the heel, they can also form in other areas of the body, such as the knees, hip, spine, shoulder, and hands.
What can cause a heel spur to form?
As mentioned, athletes and people working on their feet all day are most likely to notice pain caused by bone spurs. This is due to the continued impact and weight they’re placing on the areas of inflammation. But what exactly causes spurs to form?
Heel spurs are usually caused by long-term strain on foot muscles or ligaments that cause direct stress and trauma to the heel bone. Continuous damage or bruising to the heel bone prompts the body to react by building up additional bone tissue. This bone tissue develops over a period of time, so it’s not usually noticeable until it begins to interfere with the general function of your heel.
Even though anyone can develop a spur in the heel, there are some risk factors associated with the condition. These can include:
- Conditions such as arthritis
- Weight gain
- Inappropriate footwear
- Athletic activity
- Physically-demanding careers
Tip: If you work on your feet all day, you can check out some tips on finding the best footwear here.
How can I tell if I have a heel spur?
Heel spurs don’t always have symptoms and because they grow inside the foot, they can be tricky to spot. Even when they present symptoms, patients often class intermittent symptoms as not requiring immediate treatment. As with almost every health condition, early detection is usually the best way to ensure the widest variety of treatment options.
Bone spurs in the heel are most commonly diagnosed using advanced imaging, but there are some symptoms you can look out for:
1. Pain (intermittent or chronic):
This pain can be sharp or dull, depending on the severity of your heel spur.
2. Inflammation or swelling:
Inflammation or swelling at the front of the heel is a common complication of the condition.
3. Heat radiating from the affected area:
An area of your heel that is warm to the touch can be a sign of a developed spur.
4. Changes in the tissue around the heel of your foot:
For those who are particularly observant when it comes to their feet, a change in the tissue around your heel might be noticeable.
5. A small protrusion from underneath your heel:
Even though it is more common for the bony growth associated with heel spurs to remain inside your foot, they can also grow in size to a point where they begin to protrude outwards.
6. General tenderness on the areas you walk/place impact on your heel:
If you’re an athlete or are on your feet a lot, tenderness in the area where your heel meets the ground as you walk or run is sometimes an indication of heel spurs.
Are heel spurs preventable?
One of the most important things to remember if trying to avoid heel spurs is that, just like any part of your body, correct stretching is an essential part of helping your muscles and ligaments adjust to physical activity. Even everyday activities such as walking can be enough to strain the muscles attached to your heel bone.
Especially for athletes or those with active jobs, ensuring consistent and targeted movement of your feet can help prevent the development of heel spurs. Check out these helpful exercises that you can start with!
Additionally, appropriate footwear is one of the best ways to help with prevention. Regardless of how often you’re on your feet, incorrect footwear can lead to the development of all kinds of painful and difficult to treat conditions. If you’re a runner, investing in high quality running shoes will help keep your feet healthy, but in general, footwear that is correctly fitted and provides suitable support is worth taking time to research — regardless of how active you are!
Other ways to avoid heel spurs include effectively managing your weight and avoiding running or walking on hard surfaces. The main thing to remember is that consistent trauma to your heel can lead to problems, so be as kind to your feet as possible!
How do I know if I have a heel spur or plantar fasciitis?
While there are some similarities, heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are in fact two separate conditions. The most significant difference between the two is that while a heel spur is a calcium deposit or growth (spur), plantar fasciitis is inflammation of a ligament.
Pain from plantar fasciitis usually presents in the arch of the foot and the heel, while heel spur pain is usually localized to the heel. Even though the symptoms of both conditions are extremely similar, a specialist can identify the difference.
Is there treatment available for heel spurs?
The good news is that heel spurs don’t have to be something you ‘just have to live with’. There are several treatment options available depending on the severity of the condition.
Treatment can include:
- Pain relief injections
- Deep tissue laser
- Anodyne therapy (therapy that increases circulation and reduces pain, stiffness, and muscle spasm)
- Physical therapy exercises (or manual therapy)
- Specialist equipment such as a brace or custom orthotics
- Kinesio taping
- And more (depending on the specialist you see!)
What should I do if I notice heel pain?
At Annapolis Pain Management, we specialize in finding ways to reduce the pain you’re experiencing and improve your overall quality of life. Due to hectic schedules and general blasé attitudes towards our health, we often pass off pain as something that everyone has to live with.
In actual fact, there are lots of simple and effective ways to reduce pain you might be experiencing. You don’t have to suffer, there’s almost always some form of help on hand.
If you have heel spurs or would like to discuss some other discomfort you might be experiencing, request an appointment today.